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japaul's 2012 reading log

This topic was continued by japaul's 2012 reading log, part 2.

Club Read 2012

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Edited: Jan 3, 2012, 8:24pm Top

Hi everyone! I'm new to Club Read this year, but have been on LT since 2009. My name in Jennifer and I live in Washington, D.C. with my husband, toddler, and dog. I'm a classical musician - I play french horn and somehow lucked into actually making a living doing it. I've been logging my reading over in the 50 book challenge, but I'm looking for a little more interaction and discussion. After lurking on your threads for a few months, I think I'll be a good fit over here.

In 2011 I read 79 books, which shattered my old record of 52 books. Much of this increase is due to the influence of fellow LTers and also the 11 in 11 group. Also the fact that my toddler finally started sleeping - 12 hours at night and a 3 hour nap!

My goals for this year are:
1) to read Don Quixote
2) to read more non-fiction. I'm aiming for more of a 2:1 fiction to non-fiction ratio, which I slipped away from this year (possibly in an attempt to read more books - **blushing**)
3) to participate in more group reads on LT
4) to track the nationality of the authors I read - I expect to be embarrassingly full of American and British authors, but maybe this will make me broaden my reading

To give you an idea of what I like to read, my favorites of 2011 were . . .
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope
Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Room by Emma Donaghue
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (reread of one of my favorites)
House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
Wedlock The True Story of the Disastrous Marriage and Remarkable Divorce of Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore by Wendy Moore
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barabara Demick

Least favorite Books of 2011:
Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Edited: May 30, 2012, 8:18am Top

Books Read in 2012:
1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
2. Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans
3. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera
4. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
5. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
6. The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, A Life by David Lawday
7. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
8. Push has come to Shove by Dr. Steve Perry
9. The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

10. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
11. A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
12. Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
13. Snow by Orhan Pamuk
14. Persuasion by Jane Austen
15. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

16. War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk
17. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
18. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
19. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
20. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
21. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

22. Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
23. The Virgin in the Garden by A. S. Byatt
24. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
25. Elizabeth the Queen by Sally Bedell Smith
26. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

27. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
28. The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak
29. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
30. Faithful Place by Tana French
31. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
32. Don Quixote, Book One by Miguel de Cervantes
33. Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen
34. Lady Chatterly's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

What I'm Reading Now:

Don Quixote
Letters of John and Abigail Adams

Dec 28, 2011, 5:42pm Top

Welcome! (This is my first year in Club Read as well.) I'll be anxious to hear how Don Quixote goes; I still haven't worked-up the determination to tackle that one.

Dec 29, 2011, 9:34am Top

Thanks Deskdude! I'll be sure to check out your thread. If you're interested, there's a year-long group read of Don Quixote taking place in the 12 in 12 group.

Dec 31, 2011, 10:19am Top

Welcome to Club Read and the world of children who sleep! Hoping you might share some children's books along the way (although my own a little older now, at 5 & 7).

Edited: Dec 31, 2011, 9:24pm Top

Thanks dchaikin! My son (who is two - today!) and I have just graduated to Dr. Seuss and Beatrix Potter. I'll share anything great that we come upon though. The worst thing is that now I have to share my very limited shelf space with his books! Just kidding, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Edited: Jan 1, 2012, 12:42pm Top

Found you! This is a good group for discussion, I think. Hope you enjoy a year reading with us. And congrats on sleeping through the night. That's huge!

ETA: And Happy Birthday to the New Year's boy

Jan 1, 2012, 4:34pm Top

Hi there - Thanks for stopping by my old thread. We do have a lot of books in common! I'll drop off a star here and be back to chat :)

Jan 1, 2012, 5:26pm Top

Thanks for commenting at my thread. Both of your current reads sound good - it'll be interesting to see what you think of them. Happy 2012.

Edited: Jan 3, 2012, 10:26am Top

Finished my first book! I'll say here that my reviews are typically more weighted towards my impressions and thoughts of the book and author rather than a plot review.

#1 Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
I chose this book hoping to make it the last of my 2011 reading since I was looking for something fun that I wouldn't have to think about. I guess I should have known that a time-travel/historical fiction/romance would not really be for me. This is a very popular novel so I was expecting it to at least be a page turner, but I actually found large portions of it to be pretty boring. The basic story follows Claire Beauchamp, a 1940s nurse, who is sucked back in time through a Stonehenge-type rock structure to 1740s Scotland where she meets the love of her life, Jamie Fraser. Um, ok. I would mainly classify this book as a romance and I never read romances, which is probably the main reason I didn't like it. I was very disturbed by how Jamie and Claire's love is so wrapped up with violence. It bothers me when people equate passion with violent feelings. Also, the book falls into the trap of one disaster after another. Between getting captured and tortured himself, Claire is saved by Jamie from two rapes and being burned as a witch. It's all just too much. When Claire fights a wolf with her bare hands I almost threw my kindle across the room.

So obviously I wasn't a big fan of this book and I don't see myself wasting my time reading the following 6 books of the series. However, I will admit that, as a bestselling series should, this book left even me with a little curiosity about what tragedies Jamie and Claire would go through in the next book. I read an interview with Gabaldon that was at the end of my kindle version, and she repeatedly said that this novel was an experiment in writing for her and made it sound like it was her first attempt at a novel. If that's true, I suppose it's possible that subsequent books in the series get a bit better, but I think there are too many good books in the world to read for me to spend time on them.

Original Publication Date: 1991
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 688 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 2 stars

On to hopefully better things! I'm starting The Count of Monte Cristo and continuing Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet.

Jan 2, 2012, 3:06pm Top

Even though this is only my second year in Club Read, I'd like to welcome you as well!

Thanks for your comments on Outlander. It has been in the back of my mind to read it but now I think I'll cross it off the list. Sounds like you and I share similar prejudices.

Hope you enjoy The Count of Monte Cristo. I read that when I was a young teenager and loved it, despite its length.

Jan 2, 2012, 4:30pm Top

I tried to read The Outlander many years ago (after hearing so many raves) and I couldn't finish it. I found it really boring. So you're not alone in your assessment.

Jan 2, 2012, 4:34pm Top

I read Outlander in 2009, hoping for the same things you were, japaul - that it was fun and light and hard to put down. But, like you said, the violence between Claire and Jamie was unsettling. I just could not get past the scene where he beats her. I've never continued with the series.

Jan 2, 2012, 4:43pm Top

Thanks for the review, now I know it is not for me.

Jan 2, 2012, 6:18pm Top

They do get better, as the series goes on, but if you hated the first book it probably isn't worth it.

Jan 2, 2012, 8:56pm Top

Hi Japaul22! I've starred your thread. Thanks, Beth

Jan 3, 2012, 3:22am Top

Oh, dear, I got Outlander for Christmas, and I'm really hoping I'll like it better than you did, but from your description, I'm doubtful. I've heard it touted as a romance novel for people who don't read romance novels -- which definitely includes me -- but clearly it doesn't work for everybody.

Jan 3, 2012, 5:38am Top

Hi Japaul22, thanks for visiting my thread. I moved over from the 50 Book Challenge group last year for the same reason (although I wasn't very good at interacting towards the end of the year) and because I found the number aspect distracting (I'm not sure I'll ever manage 50 books in a year, well not until I'm retired at least and that's a long way off...).

Congratulations on having a sleeping toddler! I hope to have the same one day...

As I said on my thread, I've lurked on your previous threads and think we have similar tastes (though I see from your profile that Umberto Eco's a favourite of yours and I'm not sure he's for me!), so I look forward to seeing what you read this year.

Jan 3, 2012, 9:30am Top

Thanks to everyone for all of the great comments! This is exactly why I wanted to switch over to this group.

Glad to know I wasn't the only one who didn't enjoy Outlander, but I'm also glad to know that the series gets better, Jenny. Maybe if I'm bored on a beach sometime (there's about a 5% chance of that happening!).

Bragan - Hope you enjoy the book more than me. I'll keep a look out for your review when you get to it.

Rebeki - The sleeping toddler will happen at some point, but it does feel like forever when you waiting for sleep! And I'm only planning on one Eco read this year, Baudolino, so don't let that deter you from my thread!

Jan 4, 2012, 9:26am Top

Hi japaul 22. I have Don Quixote on my Kindle, but haven't seemed to clear a space to read it yet. Thanks for mentioning the year-long group read. That ought to give me enough time! I'll be interested in following your comments.

Jan 7, 2012, 1:56pm Top

Hi everyone! I'm in the middle of three long books and thought I'd give a short update. I've just finished Part 1 of 2 of Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet. I heard an interview with the author on Fresh Air (NPR) last year and knew I had to read this book. I'll do a complete review when I finish, but so far I'm enjoying it. Ballet is a hard topic to write about for the same reason that it didn't really get its cultural footing established until the 1900s - because it has never had a reliable notation system. For that reason, it was only handed down by mentor to student and seems to not have been able to build upon itself or add rich resources and influences from other cultures. The first half of the book focuses on France primarily, with diversions to Denmark and Italy. Homans discusses ballet's role in society, politics, and the arts, but can't truly make the reader see what ballet must have looked like because it simply isn't known. I think she's describing it as well as anyone could, but it's still hard to visualize. I was definitely surprised and dismayed to see how tied up ballet was with pantomime - really, most of it sounds like it would have been just ridiculous to watch. When I started reading this book, I wondered why, as a person having a Masters in music, I couldn't really recall much about ballet and its music (except for Gluck) until you get to the 1900s and Russia. Well, now I know it's because the music wasn't really that great or the focus. Once ballet left the aristocracy and court life, it was more about trying to pantomime a story and used simple form music or street music. So I'm learning a lot and this book is making me think. I have a feeling the second half, with it's focus on the famous Russian ballet and American ballet, will be a much quicker read. I'll let you know!

I'm also about a quarter of the way through The Count of Monte Cristo which I'm loving.

Jan 8, 2012, 6:43am Top

Looking forward to your review of A History of Ballet. Be careful of those puns though "cultural footing" indeed.

Jan 8, 2012, 8:19am Top

Looking forward to your review of A History of Ballet. Be careful of those puns though "cultural footing" indeed.

Hehe . . . I honestly hadn't noticed that!

Jan 8, 2012, 10:07am Top

I listened to a couple of interviews with the author of Apollo's Angels and very interesting they were. I'm not a ballet aficionado, but Homans seemed to be very adept at contextualizing the subject. From what I remember, her epilogue caused a furor. I'll be interested in your final take on the book.

Jan 8, 2012, 10:57am Top

theaelizabet - Yes, I know her epilogue, where she basically says ballet is a dead art, is one of the reasons the book is being so talked about. I think I might write my thoughts/review on the book before I read the epilogue and then add my thoughts about it so that the epilogue doesn't color my whole view of the book. I don't know much about ballet either, except for the music that goes with it, but I'm enjoying the book anyway.

Edited: Jan 10, 2012, 10:08pm Top

#2 Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet by Jennifer Homans
Last year, I heard an interview with Homans on Fresh Air (NPR) and knew I had to read this book. The first half of the book focuses on France primarily, with diversions to Denmark and Italy. Homans discusses ballet's role in society, politics, and the arts, but can't truly make the reader see what ballet must have looked like because it simply isn't known. I think she describes it as well as anyone could, but it's still hard to visualize. Ballet is a hard topic to write about for the same reason that it didn't really get its cultural footing established until the 1900s - because it has never had a reliable notation system. For that reason, it was only handed down by mentor to student and seems to not have been able to build upon itself or add rich resources and influences from other cultures. I was definitely surprised and dismayed to see how tied up ballet was with pantomime - really, most of it sounds like it would have been just ridiculous to watch. When I started reading this book, I wondered why, as a person having a Masters in music, I couldn't really recall much about ballet and its music (except for Gluck) until you get to the 1900s and Russia. Well, now I know it's because the music wasn't really that great or the focus. Once ballet left the aristocracy and court life, it was more about trying to pantomime a story and used simple form music or street music.

In the second half of the book, the focus shifts to Russia. Here is where ballet as we think of it really takes hold. Tchaikovsky begins to compose for ballet and some of the most famous ballets (Swan Lake, the Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty) are created. This tradition is followed by great composers like Stravinsky, Prokoviev, Debussy, Ravel, Bernstein, Copland, Delibes, etc. Some of these composers create specifically for ballet, and some have their music "appropriated" later. For me, knowing the music really helped me to envision the dancing innovations she describes. And, of course, starting as early as the 1940s, you can find clips online of many of the dancers and choreography that she describes. This really added to the experience of reading this book. The final chapters of the book describe the different schools of ballet in America, with an overwhelming emphasis on Balanchine (over people like Jerome Robbins, Joffrey, etc.). In this section, I started to really feel the author's personal biases. The manner in which she describes and critiques dancers, ballets, and choreographers starts to feel more personal and less historical. I guess this is partially to be expected; she is after all an American ballerina and lived and performed through this era. In some ways, the tone made the section more readable, but I was a bit uncomfortable not knowing enough about ballet to completely understand the bias. Also in this section, Homans sticks to describing ballet performers and ballets rather than talking much about the tradition of learning ballet. It's a topic that she discusses a lot in the first section. I wondered if it was maybe too personal for her to write about? She also doesn’t talk much about recording ballet, and the lack of a notation discussion ends, but instead she focuses on the thought that ballet reflects the period it’s written in and dancers it’s written for and really can’t truly be reproduced accurately. Balanchine definitely believed this and passed the thought on to his students.

And that thought leads to the Epilogue. The Epilogue may be the main reason this book has been talked about as much as it has. In it she states that ballet is a dying art and that she sees no way for it to be revived. There is a lack of innovation and talent and lack of interest from the public and she sees it all coming to a close. Today's ballet companies soullessly reproduce old works instead of coming up with new works to reflect their generation.

This is a much longer review than I normally write, but I really enjoyed this book and found it very thought-provoking. I know that many people will be turned away from it because they don't know much about ballet. I'd just like to say that I know very little (I've only seen The Nutcracker and The Rite of Spring live) and it still really meant something to me. Homans really does an excellent job of describing how ballet fit into life in many different cultures. I do think you need some small knowledge of the arts to truly appreciate the book. My music background definitely helped me a deeper understanding of many of the ballets she writes about, but Homans does a good job, particularly in the first half, of tying ballet to many different aspects of life such as literature, visual arts, music, politics, court-life, and government, and knowledge of any of these areas will aid in understanding and connecting with the book. I highly recommend this book and will be passing it on to several friends.

Original Publication Date: 2010
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 550 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

**ETA** In re-reading this post I was surprised how much of it is negative even though I really loved the book. I think the key is that I really learned a lot from this book, and filled in gaps in my knowledge of the arts. Also, the author is scholarly, but obviously passionate about the subject and that makes the book infectious.

Jan 11, 2012, 3:23pm Top

Very interesting review of Apollo's Angels. It is sad to learn that ballet is dying. In San Francisco where I spent most of my life until recently has – or perhaps had – a thriving ballet, but I am out of touch completely now, so perhaps in these dodgy economic times it is hurting there as well.

Jan 11, 2012, 5:56pm Top

Fabulous review of Apollo's angels

Jan 11, 2012, 6:57pm Top

Thanks Poquette and Baswood!

Poquette - I don't have much knowledge about the ballet industry, but I think that there are hundreds of professional ballet dancers that would disagree with Homans's assessment that ballet is a dead art. I did think that she has a point, though, that there are not many new ballet works being performed and that innovation is not just not a money-maker. I think it's a safe bet that The Nutcracker and Swan Lake are still far and away the most often performed ballets. I also know that many ballet companies are moving to using pre-recorded music, something I'm strongly against as a musician! With the economy the way it is, all of the arts are struggling right now, but I think there is always a way that new life can be breathed into the old traditions and hope that it will happen for ballet.

Edited: Jan 12, 2012, 1:20pm Top

#3 The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera
I chose this book because it fit three challenges I wanted to participate in: CR's read a book published in the year of your birth, my 12 in 12 category of the same topic, and it's a 1001 book. Unfortunately, I really didn't connect with this book. Kundera's book is part auto-biography, part intertwining fictional short stories, and part political history of the Czech Republic. He wrote it after fleeing Czechoslovakia and it resulted in his citizenship being revoked. I think that if I understood more of the history and politics of the country at the time, this book might have meant more to me. As it is, I didn't like how Kundera kept inserting himself into the book. It felt like he either was too egotistical to keep himself out of his fiction, or too afraid of the truth to keep fiction out of his views. There is also a lot of sex in this book but virtually no love, something that always bothers me.

In the end, I felt like I might not be smart enough to understand this book - a feeling that kept me pretty alienated while reading. I did like how Kundera uses words and there were paragraphs that blew me away, but overall I just didn't get it.

Original Publication Date: 1978
Author’s nationality: Czech
Original language: Czech
Length: 223 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 2.5 stars

Jan 12, 2012, 2:08pm Top

From one who knows nothing about ballet, I found your review of Apollo's Angels very interesting. Haven't read Kundera, although I own The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I supsect, like you, I would have trouble grasping his work.

Jan 12, 2012, 2:11pm Top

#30 - Interesting review. I suspect I might have a similar reaction. I'm probably the only person in the world not to have liked The Unbearable Lightness of Being when I read it. It's interesting that you mention the sex without love, because in TULoB, I got very hung up on the main character's infidelity and treatment of his wife and, as such, found it profoundly depressing. I'm sure I was missing the point somehow, but that book really bothered me.

Jan 12, 2012, 3:15pm Top

> 29 – many ballet companies are moving to using pre-recorded music

Now, that is shocking! And I've seen enough ballet to know that pre-recorded music is unrelenting and in a subtle way – probably not obvious to most of the audience – it puts added pressure on the dancers.

Jan 12, 2012, 6:37pm Top

Yes, it is shocking and you're right, very difficult for the dancers. The Washington Ballet did not hire an orchestra for their entire run of Nutcracker performances in 2010. Luckily in 2011 they got a donation to cover the orchestra so they had live music again. There are more and more ballets and musicals though that either use pre-recorded music or severely scale back the number of musicians - maybe just a piano, combo, and a few winds. Things are definitely changing.

Jan 13, 2012, 1:25am Top

Loved your review of Apollo's Angels - I've put it on hold at the library. I always wondered how different versions of the same piece varied and how they were transmitted. I recently saw a Giselle that was supposed to be based on various older/historical sources and they used a lot of gestures - there was even a guide to all the hand/arm movements in the program.

Jan 13, 2012, 10:06pm Top

DieFledermaus - The topics you bring up are definitely discussed in the book. Giselle in particular is mentioned quite a bit. I'll be curious to hear what you think of it!

Jan 13, 2012, 11:37pm Top

Rebeki--I also really disliked The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I haven't picked up another Kundera since then, and Japaul, your review of The Book of Laughter and Forgetting hasn't changed my mind.

Jan 14, 2012, 7:28am Top

Rebeki and arubabookwoman - I find it reassuring to know that others were put off by a well-regarded author like Kundera! I think I will try The Unbearable Lightness of Being some day, but not for a long time.

Edited: Jan 16, 2012, 3:05pm Top

#4 The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
I've been curious to read this book since it has gotten talked about so much on LT lately. This is the Man Booker prize winner for 2011. It is a short novel that reads somewhat like a short story in that it is tightly focused on one event and the ramifications of this event about 40 years later. It's told in first person and I liked the narrator. As in so many first-person narrations, the reliability of the narrator is always in question, but one difference is that the narrator is trying to be reliable, but knows his memory is faulty. The book really delves into how well we really remember our own lives. I've read a lot of books that deal with "how well can you ever really know another person?", but this book turns that into "how well do we really know ourselves?". Are our memories accurate and complete? Are the events that we remember the ones that really have the most impact on others that were involved? And do we remember the events the same way that others do?

I really enjoyed this book and would love to read more by Julian Barnes. I didn't read the other nominees for the Booker prize this year, but I thought this was a worthy winner.

Original Publication Date: 2011
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 176 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 4 stars

Jan 16, 2012, 3:03pm Top

Sounds really interesting!

Jan 16, 2012, 3:29pm Top

I received The Sense of an Ending for Christmas and hope to read it soon, so glad to see you enjoyed it!

Jan 16, 2012, 3:35pm Top

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is definitely not an easy Kundera. I had to put it down for a while myself and haven't been able to get back into it. I've also been distracted by other books I want to read more. For Kundera I would suggest The Farewell Waltz instead. It has a bit of his political views but he doesn't place himself in the book as he does in Laughter so you can follow the great story.

Jan 16, 2012, 4:47pm Top

>39 japaul22: I really enjoyed this book and would love to read more by Julian Barnes.

Enjoyed your thoughts on The Sense of an Ending. I can certainly recommend Julian Barnes's Flaubert's Parrot and A History of the World in 10½ Chapters.

Jan 16, 2012, 7:36pm Top

Thanks lilisin - I will consider trying The Farewell Waltz when I attempt more Kundera.

Poquette - thanks for the other Barnes suggestions. I'm on my way to your thread to reread your recent review of Flaubert's Parrot.

Edited: Jan 17, 2012, 7:40am Top

>26 japaul22: - isn't one of the problems of ballet that in order to become a great dancer a person has to fully commit to it early on and that if conflicts with modern ideas of parenting, and that one of the key aspects of Russia's success with ballet was the way the state interfered to produce great dancers - that ballet itself became part of the Cold War, a cultural victory for them?

Re Kundera - you can't read his work as a traditional novel - he quite openly disdainful of the psychological novel. What is doing is playing the idea of a novel to create a meditation on certain ideas. He said of it - In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the coherence of the whole is created solely by the unity of a few themes (and motifs), which are developed in variations. Is it a novel? Yes, to my mind. The novel is a meditation on existence as seen through the medium of imaginary characters.

Jan 17, 2012, 8:29am Top

Jargoneer - One of her points in the book was that ballet was traditionally an aristocratic, court art. In the areas where it has thrived it received almost complete support from the state. This started of course in France with Louis XIV and was most obviously continued in Russia though both their monarchy and the Soviet Union. But there was also large state support in England after WWII and earlier in Denmark. So yes, in all of these places the government was supporting the arts. Actually, America's most fruitful years for ballet coincided with the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts and other government-supported arts. Homans doesn't address the issue of training as much as I thought she would in the more modern part of the book. At least, not the aspect of training little children so I don't know what her thoughts on that would be. There are certainly plenty of modern American families that commit their kids to gymnastics, ice-skating, violin, etc. so I'm not sure that idea in itself is leading to ballet's stagnation.

About Kundera, yes, a meditation on certain ideas certainly sums it up! I think that it's a book that I may have connected with in a different state of mind which is why I will try another of his books at some point.

Thanks for the thoughts!

Jan 17, 2012, 11:49pm Top

Kundera's The Joke is fairly straightforward - there are different narrators, but their stories are all intertwined and the plot is realistic. As far as I know, Kundera doesn't insert himself into that one. He's one of my favorite authors, but The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is one of my least favorites. I don't mind the metafiction and politics but the storyline with the weird magic realist island/kids/sex was pointless and unpleasant.

Jan 18, 2012, 9:20am Top

Thanks DieFledermaus - I'll consider reading The Joke - it sounds like it is more my style.

Jan 18, 2012, 3:07pm Top

I've read a lot of books that deal with "how well can you ever really know another person?",but this book turns that into "how well do we really know ourselves?"

This is an interesting description, enjoyed your review.

Jan 18, 2012, 3:40pm Top

I really enjoyed your review of Apollo's Angels. It made me think about the ballets I have seen most of which are those reproductions of old pieces although often with a twist, e.g. male cygnets in Swan Lake or Cinderella set in WWII London. I think I'm more reluctant to see new works because it's an expensive night out. If I'm paying £40+ ($60+), I want to have know that I'm likely to enjoy what I see.

Jan 18, 2012, 7:40pm Top

charbutton - I think most people feel as you do, myself included to a large extent. It's a big event to go out to a ballet/opera/concert. If I had the money and time to go more often, I would probably be more adventurous.

Jan 19, 2012, 4:00am Top

>50 charbutton: - charbutton - I like to see new works, but I agree price is important - I can get tickets for less than $30 (£20) and if I get student tickets that day, they're less than $20 (£13). I've really enjoyed the contemporary stuff that I've seen in the past couple years, so I'm willing to try something unknown.

I always thought seeing a ballet/opera/concert would be cheaper in the U.K. because of the government subsidies - but maybe the cheapest tickets sell out pretty quickly?

Jan 19, 2012, 4:55am Top

>52 DieFledermaus:, it is possible to get cheaper tickets if you are OK with being up in the Gods and having a restricted view and book early enough. For example, there are £10 tickets in the balcony to see a ballet at the Coliseum in central London but I know that if there's action at the front of the stage, it's really hard to see it. The cheapest tickets in the next tier down are £45.

Jan 19, 2012, 5:22am Top

I have had many nosebleed seats = )

That's a shame that there aren't more decently priced, decently located seats. There does always seem to be a big price jump between the cheapest seats and the next level up. It sounded like the British papers and politicians would often talk about the importance of increasing availability to the arts (even if they were only paying lip service to the idea) so I thought there would be more cheap seats. American politicians seem to be either unconcerned or eager to cut all public funding to arts organizations.

Jan 19, 2012, 5:42am Top

>54 DieFledermaus: - lots of people in the UK have asked why ticket prices are so high if the organisations are heavily subsidised. One of the issues seems to be with the cost of the productions - rather than going for stripped back affordable productions the ballet and opera go for full-blown ones. This pushes the prices back up. I looked at going to the Scottish ballet recently and the cheapest tickets (in the nose-bleed seats) were £29 ($44). At the same time I purchased some preview tickets for the main theatre in Edinburgh - 6 tickets cost £30.

Jan 19, 2012, 10:09am Top

Good discussion everyone! I just wanted to mention that, depending on where you live, universities and music conservatories are a good and inexpensive way to view more cutting edge music and/or productions. This is especially true if you're looking for chamber music. Yes, the quality isn't as high as a professional performance, but there's an energy in good student performances that is hard to replicate elsewhere.

Jan 19, 2012, 7:04pm Top

>55 Jargoneer: - I must admit that I do enjoy spectacle in ballet/opera but some of my favorite productions have been the stripped-down kind. I would hope the government funds would at least translate into a more adventurous repertoire than is generally seen in the U.S.

>56 japaul22: - Very true - I've seen some wonderful student/young artist productions

Edited: Jan 21, 2012, 6:30pm Top

#5 The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, trans. by Robin Buss
This was a very fun book to read. It's long, about 1000 pages, but is definitely a page-turner. Most people are probably familiar with at least the beginning of the story. The innocent Edmund Dantes is imprisoned for 14 years, escapes, and proceeds to avenge himself as the Count of Monte Cristo. The book brings up serious questions about vengeance and the role of the man vs. God in seeking vengeance and punishing the guilty. I had some real problems with how the Count seeks vengeance, the peripheral people he hurts, his regrets (which I didn't think were deep enough), and the way he still tries to control outcomes, even intending good, instead of letting people live their own lives (regarding Valentine and Maximillien Morrel for those who know the book). But I loved that the book brought up these themes and made me think.

I loved the first 300 pages and the last 300 pages, but the middle 300 dragged a bit for me. I had lots of thoughts in the middle of the book about cursing the publishers who paid authors by the line, as Dumas was paid for this book. I think he dragged out a lot of scenes and that the suspense aspect of the book would have been more effective if the book had been more tightly constructed.

Additionally, I read in the foreward of the book that this was written around the same time as Madame Bovary and that they represented different trends in literature. Dumas was writing a novel published serially that is part adventure novel, part suspense, part historical fiction, part travelogue. Flaubert was presenting a carefully crafted novel that he wanted to be realistic (part of the realism movement). I read Madame Bovary last year and I didn't love it right when I finished reading, but I've thought more and more about it since I put it away and the more I reflect on it the more I appreciate it and consider one of the best books I've read. I'm not sure that Dumas really achieved the same heights as Flaubert, but he created an adventure novel that is more than just adventure and addresses some serious themes as well. It's a novel that will stick with me and I enjoyed the experience.

Original Publication Date: 1844
Author’s nationality: French
Original language: French, trans. by Robin Buss
Length: 1276 pages
Other books read by this author: None
Rating: 4 stars

Jan 21, 2012, 5:42pm Top

Good review of The Count of Monte Cristo and its interesting that you compared it to Madame Bovary for the style in which it was written.

These are both books that I have not read yet, but hope to get to one day.

Jan 21, 2012, 9:01pm Top

I had a lot of fun reading that book and went quickly on to read Les Trois Mousquetaires (The Three Musketeers). I should read another Dumas this year as he's just so much fun to read. Glad to see you enjoyed the work.

Jan 22, 2012, 3:32pm Top

I read The count of Count of Monte Cristo when I was fifteen, very early for me...I didn't pick up on any of those themes. Your comparison to Madame Bovary is very interesting.

Jan 23, 2012, 5:43am Top

I thought I'd read The Count of Monte Cristo, but it's a treat still in store. Mixed it up with another adventure classic, The Prisoner of Zenda, which I can recommend highly.

Edited: Jan 23, 2012, 1:18pm Top

Pamelad - thanks for The Prisoner of Zenda recommendation. I hadn't heard of it.

dchaikin - I always think it's interesting to re-read books I read in high school. They almost always strike me so differently as an adult.

lilisin - Yes, The Three Musketeers is now on my reading list, but I'll probably wait til next year.

baswood - I would recommend reading The Count of Monte Cristo and Madame Bovary in the same year. It's quite a contrast!

Edited: Jan 23, 2012, 1:33pm Top

#6 The Giant of the Revolution: Danton, A Life by David Lawday
I chose this book because I'm planning to read Hilary Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety this year and I know very little of the details of the French Revolution. Most of my knowledge embarrassingly comes from A Tale of Two Cities or my knowledge of American politics at the time (Jefferson vs. Adams, Washington's relationship with LaFayette, etc.). This book fit the bill. It's an exciting, fast-paced look at Danton's life, death, and impact on the Revolution. I liked the writing style. Lawday is a journalist and he has a way with words. I suspect he took some liberties in imagining some of Danton's thoughts and reactions. He admits that Danton left few clues to his life because he left almost no written record. He was, however, an amazing orator and many of his speeches were preserved by those who witnessed them.

Just as a side note, I don't know how well you can see the cover, but wow Danton was an ugly man! He used his physical attributes to command respect and, to some degree, fear from those he led. A very interesting man who blazed into Paris and the revolution, helped inspire the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and was guillotined just 5 years later. It's an amazing and horrifying time in history and this book captures it well.

Original Publication Date: 2009
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 294 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 3.5 stars

ETA: Thanks to Ridgewaygirl for the inspiration to read this book before A Place of Greater Safety!

Edited: Jan 23, 2012, 4:50pm Top

Good review Jennifer of The Giant of the Revolution: Danton, a life It is a period of history that I am interested in and so I am happy to read any decent biographies of the participants. I have added it to my to buy list.

Jan 23, 2012, 5:07pm Top

Thanks baswood, I hope you enjoy it. It's not necessarily the most scholarly biography I've read (at least it doesn't read that way), but Lawday's writing is gripping and he successfully captures the moment and creates a clear and memorable picture of Danton.

Jan 23, 2012, 11:56pm Top

I might have to add The Giant of the Revolution" Danton, a life to my wishlist. After reading Les Miserable I wanted to learn more about the French Revolution.

Jan 24, 2012, 7:00pm Top

Nice review of The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, A Life. I bought it after I saw Danton's Death at the National Theatre in London in 2010 (which was superb), and I also intend to read it soon, before I start A Place of Greater Safety.

Jan 24, 2012, 10:22pm Top

arrwa - I read Les Miserables a few years back and also felt I would have benefited from a more extensive knowledge of french history.

kidzdoc - Danton's Death looks really interesting! I'd love to see it some day. We should compare notes on A Place of Greater Safety if we both read it this year. I expect to start it in the next month or so.

Jan 24, 2012, 10:39pm Top

I enjoyed reading your review of The Count of Montechristo, and the subsequent discussion on your thread about that genre of swashbuckling literature. I tremendously enjoyed The Prisoner of Zenda. Perhaps I should allow myself to read more of that kind of entertaining literature. Your review has opened up some idea of its literary value.

Jan 25, 2012, 8:56am Top

Thanks, Edwin. I don't have any comparisons since this was my first adventure novel, but I doubt that The Count of Monte Cristo has as much high adventure as other books in the genre. I don't know if that lent it to having more literary themes or if they are all that way. Guess I'll have to read more to find out!

Jan 25, 2012, 12:01pm Top

>69 japaul22: Will do, Jennifer. I probably won't read A Place of Greater Safety until March at the earliest, so I'll look for your comments about it.

Edited: Jan 25, 2012, 10:07pm Top

#7 Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
This is a book that I received for Early Reviewers. Since winning it, I've seen the book mentioned on several possible bests of 2012 lists so I was excited to read it. I wasn't disappointed, though I was highly disturbed by the book. Katherine Boo is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who has focused on poverty in the U.S. In this book, she shifts her focus to India, specifically a slum called Annawadi outside of the Mumbai airport. In an attempt to learn about the lives of these Indians, she spends from November 2007 until March of 2011 talking to, observing, and recording these people. In this book, she chooses a few of the people she met to focus on and details their lives through this time period. It is not pretty. Everything from sleeping on garbage, festering rat bites on malnourished children, and suicides by rat poison and burning. Difficult concepts to contemplate.

But possibly the most disturbing aspects of this book were the pervasive cultural notions that bring everyone in the book down. One is the level of corruption in every aspect of life. The author states that for the poor in India, corruption is seen as a way to get a head - probably the only way. For that reason they welcome it, until it turns around on them as it does for several people in the book. The second is the thought that the unpredictability of life in India (never knowing if electricity will work or water will turn on) produces ingenuity. She states that people believe this, but then the lack of good results from hard work (usually due to all the corruption) erodes any malleability. The third thought is not unique to India. Boo says it exists in the U.S., South America, Nairobi, etc. This is that instead of banding together and demanding their rights and a better existence, the poor have turned on each other instead, and are stomping over each other in a frantic (and usually unsuccessful) effort to get ahead.

Obviously, this is all horribly depressing to read. I was left feeling utterly unable to effect any change. Every charity she mentions is horribly corrupt. It all seems so hopeless. The press around the book suggests a juxtaposition of happy moments and despair, but I can't really remember any happy moments. The book gives you some escape from this in the writing style. It is very narrative, and will let you believe that you are reading a novel instead of actual events for large chunks. At first this really bothered me, but I grew to appreciate it. The writing is pretty, even when the subject is very ugly. Overall, I would recommend this book, though I can't say it will be a pleasant read.

Original Publication Date: 2012
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 252 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 4 stars

Jan 26, 2012, 6:30am Top

Excellent review of Behind the Beautiful Forevers. If anyone travels around India they cannot fail to see the poor street dwellers that congregate around the cities. It sounds to me that Katherine Boo 'tells it like it is.' I think it will do me good too read this and I will look out for it being published soon.


Jan 26, 2012, 1:15pm Top

#73 sounds like a book that should be widely read. Great review.

Jan 26, 2012, 3:48pm Top

Great review of The Count of Monte Cristo. I found the points you raise about its themes and its place in 19th century French literature ithoughtful and interesting.

I'm making 2012 a year in which I reread books I read years ago and really liked, and books deemed "classics" I was forced to read and now think may deserve a second chance. The Count of Monte Cristo is in the former category, and I'm adding it to the reread list, which unfortunately is growing rather unmanageable.

Jan 26, 2012, 10:17pm Top

Thanks Barry and Dan! It was an eye-opening book for me.

arubabookwoman - Have fun with The Count of Monte Cristo! It is really long and looks daunting, but it's a page turner through most of it and since you liked it the first time it should go fairly quickly. Enjoy!

Jan 27, 2012, 1:59am Top

>73 japaul22: - I can't decide if that's a book I want to read or not, but great review.

Jan 27, 2012, 9:06am Top

>73 japaul22: An excellent review, japaul. All of the works of fiction that I have read that are set in India, A Fine Balance being the most recent, incorporate descriptions of the poverty and corruption that you reference in your review. I will be interested in reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers in order to gain a better understanding of these issues as reflected in their culture.

Edited: Jan 27, 2012, 3:54pm Top

#64 - Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I also know embarrassingly little about the French Revolution, especially as I studied French at university (though I somehow managed to avoid any French history!). I also have A Place of Greater Safety at home waiting to be read, but I'm too scared to start it until I know more about the subject matter. However, I've obviously got off to a good start, as I'm currently reading A Tale of Two Cities ;)

Jan 27, 2012, 1:10pm Top

Linda - ddi you enjoy A Fine Balance? I'm not sure I've read any Indian fiction and I'd be happy to have a few recommendations.

Rebeki - After looking at the descriptions of A Place of Greater Safety, I think that the Danton biography I read is going to be really helpful. It's also fairly short and exciting to read so it wouldn't be a huge task to add it to your reading before A Place of Greater Safety. Happy to know someone else is planning to read Mantel this year so we can compare notes! I think I'll be starting in a week or two.

Jan 27, 2012, 1:32pm Top

Yes, A Fine Balance is an excellent book and one that I would highly recommend, although it is long and very sad. The author, Rohinton Mistry, is actually a Canadian who was born in India.

Jan 27, 2012, 8:31pm Top

Thanks, Linda. I've added it to my TBR list.

Edited: Jan 28, 2012, 8:18am Top

#8 Push has Come to Shove: Getting our Kids the Education they Deserve -- even if it means picking a fight by Dr. Steve Perry

This is an ER book that I really wish I hadn't requested.

If you like getting yelled at and reading non-sensical arguments, this is the book for you. Complete with swear words (“stupid-a**” included) and a complete lack of organization, this is Dr. Steve Perry’s rant about the state of education today. Apparently he has it all figured out, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what that means. He rails against the teachers’ unions and tries to give parenting tips while freely admitting that he never sees his children because of his work. The state of public education in this country deserves to be talked about and reformed where necessary, but please don’t bother with this book. It’s too argumentative and non-substantive to do anything but waste your time.

The book is unfinished so I'm not supposed to publish quotes in my review so I won't add this to my official review, but I thought you might enjoy my favorite sentence in the book (note that I'm being sarcastic!) After discussing how today's teaching materials are outdated and irrelevant he states:

As beautiful, thoughtful new political discourse is blogged every minute, our kids are weighed down with book bags bulging with George Orwell's Animal Farm and Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. They're great novels, sure, but not exactly fresh.

Later he says Shakespeare shouldn't be taught either and suggests watching "High School Musical" instead of teaching "Romeo and Juliet". Great. I think I'll look for a different education expert.

Can I give a book no stars?

Original Publication Date: 2011
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English (loosely)
Length: 248
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 1/2 star

Jan 28, 2012, 7:26am Top

It sounds pretty bad, but your review was entertaining.

Original language: English (loosely)

Ha ha ha

Edited: Jan 28, 2012, 11:08am Top

"Later he says Shakespeare shouldn't be taught either and suggests watching "High School Musical" instead of teaching "Romeo and Juliet". Great. I think I'll look for a different education expert. "

I work with high school students; if watching "High School Musical" were to replace "Romeo and Juliet" quite a few of the students there would riot in the streets.

Jan 28, 2012, 12:41pm Top

I agree avidmom. Some of my most memorable classroom experiences in high school centered around studying Shakespeare plays. It was a ridiculous book, but I was surprised to see how many positive reviews it got.

Jan 28, 2012, 2:03pm Top

#81 - I don't think I'll be tackling it till much later in the year - I want to read Life and Fate first - but I'm looking forward to reading your comments. I'll reserve the Danton biography at the library beforehand. However, to make really sure I'm well prepared, I bought The French Revolution by Christopher Hibbert today. I'm blaming you for inspiring me with your French-themed reading and making me break my book-buying ban ;)

Jan 28, 2012, 3:06pm Top

The Danton book is excellent preparation for A Place of Greater Safety. Whatever its flaws, it does a great job of explaining the different factions (Girondins, Montangnards, Cordeliers, etc...) and their connections to each other. I also enjoyed how Lawday and Mantel have very different visions of Danton.

Jan 28, 2012, 3:11pm Top

Rebeki - Well, actually, since I got the idea to read the Danton book and A Place of Greater Safety from RidgewayGirl, she's to blame for your book buying! ;-)

I'm also getting very interested in reading Life and Fate. Might be a project for next year.

My plan is to finish The Franchise Affair and Great Expectations with the 12 in 12 group read and then start A Place of Greater Safety. I'm excited!

Jan 28, 2012, 8:11pm Top

Ray Danton

Sorry, I'm a bit behind here. Thoroughly enjoyed your review of The Count of Monte Cristo. If memory serves, I read it about the same time I read Moby-Dick as a 13 or 14-year-old, and it was one of my all-time favorite books. Having just finished rereading Moby-Dick, I am thinking I would like to relive the Monte Cristo experience. Maybe I'll just do that!

Great review of The Giant of the French Revolution which is headed for the wishlist. I had no idea he was ugly. I always pictured Ray Danton. He works for Edmond Dantès as well, come to think of it.

Jan 28, 2012, 10:39pm Top

He-he. Yes, the french revolution Danton is a far cry from the actor! I'd love to hear what you think of Monte Cristo the second time around. I really enjoyed it. Thanks for dropping by!

Jan 28, 2012, 10:46pm Top

#9 The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey
In a word, delightful. It's no surprise to me that I enjoy a 1940s british mystery. Tey crafts interesting characters, a suspenseful plot, and good dialogue, and I don't need much more in a mystery. Also, this was a folio society publication and that of course made it even more fun to read.

Original Publication Date: 1948
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 254
Other books read by this author: The Daughter of Time
Rating: 4 stars

Jan 29, 2012, 5:04am Top

Just checked out the ratings for Push has come to shove. Some people gave it five stars, even though it sounds utterly appalling.

I found the same when I reviewed an ER book - initially I was the only person who didn't like it.

Good to see another Josephine Tey fan.

Jan 29, 2012, 8:18am Top

pamelad - I wonder if people are just used to the combative tone from seeing it on political talk shows, radio shows, etc.? This guy is a CNN contributor. But I really couldn't point to any real ideas in his book either. I guess his basic premise was that teachers need to be better at what they do and that suburban schools are just as bad as urban schools, but whether or not you agree with those two statements, he said nothing to suggest a solution. Terrible book.

Reading Josephine Tey was a good way to cleanse the palate!

Jan 29, 2012, 9:01am Top

Re: Push Has Come to Shove and Classics - I teach high school English in Ontario, and we rarely read classic novels any more. We still do our mandatory Shakespeare play every year, but other than Lord of the Flies in grade 10, our kids are exposed to modern authors and texts. They often don't read a novel as a class, and instead get to pick from a list of novels to read with a small group of peers. Now, I am someone who loved English in high school, and who loved reading Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights at 15 and 16, but the majority of students do not. I'm not saying that classic novels should be eliminated, but I don't think they should be forced on kids. Students who are natural readers will find these books eventually, and I am always happy to recommend books to readers. My goal is not to introduce kids to classics, and to make them well-read - my goal is to help them enjoy reading. This goal is much more difficult if a teen opens a book and struggles to get through the language. Why turn them off reading at a young age, when they could be reading something with just as much literary value, but that contains characters to whom they can relate? I can talk about themes and symbolism and character development just as easily in Ian McEwan's Atonement, Cordelia Strube's Lemon, or Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake as I can in Great Expectations. Same skills, more enjoyable texts (for a teenager). Plus, there is the added bonus of little to no material on the internet on these books, which means plagiarism is basically zero.

However, the High School Musical idea is silly - if you are going to replace a classic text with a modern one, it at least has to be a modern text with literary value!

Rant over! Hehe

Jan 29, 2012, 10:55am Top

Cait - I think it's great to teach modern works like the ones you mentioned. I understand that the students need to feel a connection to the books they are reading and if they learn a love of reading that way, they may find their way to the classics. My problem with this book's suggestions were that they were all pop fiction, not books like the ones you mentioned. And I don't have any problem with reading pop fiction, but I think kids should be challenged to read something more literary as well (the books you mentioned are great examples). I actually don't even see anything wrong with pop fiction to inspire more remedial readers to get hooked on reading, but this book was so unorganized that it wasn't even clear what the rant was exactly about.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Jan 30, 2012, 3:45am Top

Interesting discussion. I think we mostly read older stuff in my high school, but it sounds like there's a tendency to add more new books in the curriculum. A coworker showed us the list for his son's high school summer reading and there were a number of contemporary authors on it - Salman Rushdie and Haruki Murakami, for example. I know Sherman Alexie's books are widely read in school. I wouldn't have a problem with any of those. Did Perry have any other, uh, suggestions for what should be read in high school?

Also, I'm reading Apollo's Angels now and I saw an article about the 'death of ballet' that cites the book -


The author points to Mark Morris and Alexei Ratmansky as evidence that it's not dead. I'll have to finish the book to see what I think.

Jan 30, 2012, 9:16am Top

>98 DieFledermaus: Perry's has a list of 5 books he recommends. They are 1) The Hunger Games trilogy 2) Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen 3) Eragon by Paolini 4) When You Reach me by Rebecca Stead 5) The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones by Riordan. I don't read much YA lit, the only books I've read on this list are the Hunger Games trilogy, so maybe these are good, current high school books. My experience with the Hunger Games though, was that it was well worth reading but wouldn't necessarily need to be studied in school. Maybe some others have read some of these and would be able to comment on their appropriateness. I'll admit that I also tend to think of the advanced/honors students, and maybe Perry is thinking of getting remedial readers excited about books. Unfortunately, his own writing is so unclear that it's impossible to tell his intention.

Thanks for the link to the ballet article. Very interesting! Homans doesn't really name names in her "ballet is dead" epilogue. Though it got the most press, I really didn't think it should be the focus of the book.

Jan 30, 2012, 11:55am Top

I would think that list would be excellent recommendations for a teacher to give to a reluctant reader. I don't think they'd be challenging enough for classroom use. There are interesting, contemporary books that would work and I'm curious as to why he'd pick books that really don't need a teacher to guide a student through them. I work for a non-profit that provides books to kids to encourage reading and to stop summer slide. We emphasize fun, popular books because we make the assumption that the child may well have no one pushing them to read over the summer. We provide books that kids will want to read on their own and, yes, the High School Musical books are good for that purpose. But we are excited when a teacher has been working with their students on a book that isn't on that "most popular" list. Then we get students genuinely excited about those books. That's what a teacher can do. Having a teacher guide students through a book that they'd read anyway isn't really teaching, is it?

Feb 4, 2012, 2:48pm Top

RidgewayGirl - I agree with your assessment. The books listed are great for encouraging reading and shouldn't be discouraged, but may not be the most appropriate to broaden a student's horizons in a classroom setting.

I've had a slow reading week and lots of stress this week (mainly job related). I am, however, loving both of the books I'm slowly reading - great Expectations and A Place of Greater Safety. Will probably be awhile before I finish either, though.

Feb 4, 2012, 3:39pm Top

I work with high school kids (mostly freshmen and seniors). The Hunger Games are pretty popular with the freshmen. We have one English teacher who, along with the required reading curriculum inside the classroom, also gives the seniors quite an extensive list of novels to choose from. They have to read so many from the list (I think 4 a semester). When given a choice, they tend to grumble less and choose things that are a little more difficult. These were the kids who, a few years ago, were reading the Twilight books and discussing the book(s) with each other. Now they're sitting around and discussing their choices from the list like A Clockwork Orange and 1984 voluntarily!

Feb 4, 2012, 8:30pm Top

>102 avidmom: That is a great example of how to mix popular fiction with required classics. Thanks for sharing!

Feb 8, 2012, 3:36pm Top

Really interesting discussion around Push Has Come to Shove. I used to teach English in a non-native middle school and did a mix of independent reading (choose more or less what you want within certain pretty flexibly guidelines and with help from me and the school librarians when trying to find something they'd each like) versus the whole class reading the same book (or story or excerpt) together. My experience was similar to that in #102 - more times than not, students made interesting, challenging choices.

While I believe strongly that teachers need to reach out to students and find things that interest them, the teacher is also there to challenge students and help guide them to things they might not otherwise have chosen on their own and not pander. Lo and behold, sometimes they like it - those are the best moments. It was fun, for example, to read bits of Romeo and Juliet or Taming of the Shrew and then watch scenes from Baz Luhrmann's R&J or 10 Things I Hate About You, preceded and followed by discussions of how these stories influence so many films and stories they know.

Feb 9, 2012, 11:44am Top

Thanks for the comments, ljbwell. I agree with your assessment.

And now I'll have to eat some of my words with my next review. I read Great Expectations for the first time, and I have to agree with Perry that for the average high school student, this is probably not the most engaging book. However, I stand by my opinion that that are plenty of literary works (classic or modern) that are more appropriate for school discussion/analysis than some of the popular fiction he recommends!

Edited: Feb 13, 2012, 11:17am Top

#10 Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Well, I wasn't a huge fan of this book. The positives were the characterizations and the insight into human nature which I think Dickens is a master of. But I just didn't really connect to this story. I kind of felt that while the characters were realistic and engaging, the plot was a little too unbelievable for me to get into. I did find that when I got bored with the writing it helped me to read a few lines out loud or at least really imagine the voices of the characters. This made me wonder if I should try my next Dickens as an audio book, something I rarely do. Glad I read it, but not blown away.

The best part of reading this book was that I bought an Easton Press publication second hand and it is a beautiful book!

Original Publication Date: 1860
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 457
Other books read by this author: David Copperfield, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times
Rating: 3.5 stars

ETA - A Tale of Two Cities to my "other books read by this author" list since I somehow forgot my favorite Dickens!

Feb 9, 2012, 12:37pm Top

Great Expectations is the book that convinced me Dickens is a great author. I had to read A Tale of Two Cities in high school and I made much of him being paid by the word. I've grown to like the deliberate pacing of the Victorian novel since then. Still, Dickens doesn't exactly rely on plausible story lines!

Feb 9, 2012, 12:40pm Top

Interesting! Reading A Tale of Two Cities in high school, and a few years ago as an adult, is what convinced me that Dickens is a great author. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood for Great Expectations.

Feb 9, 2012, 12:56pm Top

I'm planning to reread A Tale of Two Cities this year, although it's been so long since that first reading, it will feel like reading it for the first time.

Feb 9, 2012, 1:35pm Top

I first read Great Expectations when I was about nine and then read it again in university. Since then, I have reread it every four or five years and each time a different character seems to jump out at me, giving the novel itself a different focus each reading.

Your list is great: A Fine Balance and A Place of Greater Safety both stood out for me. The Count of Monte Cristo was another reread two years ago and it was like reading a new book. >109 RidgewayGirl:, I hope your read is like that too.

Feb 11, 2012, 4:50am Top

I also love Great Expectations, my fourth re-read of it should be coming round shortly.

Feb 13, 2012, 10:02pm Top

#11 A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
Loved it! My first 5 star read of the year. I wanted to love this book and had high expectations and it lived up to them. This is Mantel's novel of the French Revolution. She focuses her attention on Camille Desmoulins, friend to both Danton and Robespierre. The French Revolution is confusing. Loyalties shift seemingly day to day. People are friends and allies one year and condemning each other to death as traitors the next. It's really hard to keep up. Somehow Mantel keeps it all together and creates characters out of these enigmas as well. I LOVED how Mantel chose to explore Danton and Robespierre through their relationship with Camille Desmoulins. Though dozens of characters are explored, Camille (using his first name so often heightens this) remains the focus and this helps to orient the book.

Mantel shifts point of view and even writing style, (sometimes quoting, sometimes using play-like dialogue, sometimes first person from various characters) which can be challenging to read, but I thought it was an intentional move. Shifting around so much helped to personify the chaos of time and created a sense of unease that matched what the characters were experiencing. I sometimes felt that I wished that Mantel had chosen to create an even tighter focus on Camille and make the book a little more personal and less historical, but in the end, I really think she did it right.

I really loved this book and will be turning it over in my mind for a long time to come. I'd kind of like to start reading it again right now.

Original Publication Date: 1992
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 749 pages
Other books read by this author: Wolf Hall
Rating: 5 stars

Feb 13, 2012, 10:55pm Top

I'd kind of like to start reading it again right now.

Sounds like a great book! There goes another one on the wish list :)

Feb 13, 2012, 11:52pm Top

Haven't read any Mantel yet. This one sounds good. Maybe next year . . .

Feb 14, 2012, 3:50am Top

Jennifer, Good review of A Place of Greater Safety which is high up on my wish list.

Feb 14, 2012, 8:00am Top

I own A Place of Greater Safety and really must get to it soon. Did you feel that the background you gained from reading The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, A Life made a significant difference in your appreciation of the Mantel book?

Feb 14, 2012, 8:14am Top

>116 Linda92007: Absolutely, Linda. I really didn't know much about the men behind the french revolution before reading the Lawday book, and I think I would have been very confused if I hadn't done some prep work. The Lawday book is particularly good because he also really focuses on Danton, Desmoulins, and Robespierre like Mantel does. There are some significant differences between how Mantel characterizes Danton and Lawday's take on his personality and I found that very interesting. I think it helped me understand how she shaped the book since I knew a lot of the details of Danton's life. I could see clearly what she was highlighting and what she was leaving out and understand better the line between fiction and history that she straddles. They were great companion books - thanks to Ridgewaygirl for suggesting the two as a pair. It worked really well for me.

Feb 14, 2012, 8:24am Top

Thanks for the information, Jennifer. I think I may follow that advice as well. I know very little about the French Revolution and my reading of Wolf Hall, which I loved, would also have benefited from more historical background.

Feb 14, 2012, 11:05am Top

So glad you loved this book. It was the first Hilary Mantel book I read, sometime in the nineties. The memory of the book has stayed with me since and I have given it as gifts. It must be time to reread it. Unfortunately I got it from the library so do not have a copy. Guess I will have to get one, but in this case without guilt.

Great review.

Feb 15, 2012, 3:30am Top

Any recommendations for background reads for Wolf Hall? It's sitting on the pile and I was hoping to read it sometime this year.

Nice review of A Place of Greater Safety - I hadn't heard of that one before you mentioned it.

Feb 15, 2012, 8:33am Top

Linda - reading those two books was a great experience for me - hope you enjoy them as well!

Sassylassy - No guilt for purchasing that book - I think it would be a great re-read.

DieFledermaus - I didn't read a specific book for background on Wolf Hall, but I've watched countless PBS specials and read several non-fiction books about the period. I'll have to think if I have any specific examples. Maybe someone else does?

Feb 17, 2012, 7:42am Top

Very nice review of A Place of Greater Safety, Jennifer. I'll read it this summer, after I read Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall which will be published in May, and The Giant of the French Revolution: Danton, A Life.

Edited: Feb 19, 2012, 2:39pm Top

Glad to see you enjoyed A Place of Greater Safety so much, and that the Lawday book proved such useful background material. I'm grateful to you and RidgewayGirl for bringing the latter to my attention. My more immediate project is Russia, but I hope to make it to Revolutionary France before the end of the year!

Feb 19, 2012, 7:48pm Top

kidzdoc - I'm so excited about Bringing up the Bodies. I'm thinking about rereading Wolf Hall before it comes out since I had a newborn and was in kind of a daze when I read it the first time!

Rebeki - I think you'll enjoy revolutionary France - I certainly did!

Edited: Feb 19, 2012, 7:52pm Top

#12 Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
This is a non-fiction book about the assassination of President James Garfield. Millard gives a short bio of Garfield’s life prior to the presidency, including his rise from poverty, service in the Union army during the Civil War, and his unlikely nomination as the Republican candidate for President in 1880. At the same time she introduces his assassin, Charles Guiteau, and Lister and Alexander Graham Bell whose inventions would affect Garfield’s medical treatment.

This is a popular history look at Garfield’s assassination. Millard never gets very in depth about anything, but her writing style is engaging and the book moves quickly. I knew next to nothing about Garfield, so this was a good intro, but it’s not a great book. I thought her first book, River of Doubt, was much better. The most interesting part to me was all of the mistakes the doctors made in treating Garfield who would most likely have lived if he hadn’t seen a doctor at all. I suspect there was plenty that Millard could have chosen to explore in this book that she didn’t. That coupled with the numerous typos and editing mistakes (at one point she writes “years later” when it’s obvious from the context that it should be “years earlier”) didn’t give me a lot of confidence about the accuracy of her reporting. This is an entertaining book, but not a scholarly one.

Original Publication Date: 2011
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 265 pages
Other books read by this author: River of Doubt
Rating: 2.5 or 3, I can't decide

Feb 20, 2012, 2:47am Top

There doesn't seem to be a lot of editing about these days. Perhaps books are being released in beta versions so that the readers can do the editing?

After your review, I'm going to have to read A Place of Greater Safety.

Edited: Feb 20, 2012, 1:00pm Top

#13 Snow by Orhan Pamuk
This is a novel by a Turkish author that won the Nobel Prize for literature. I chose it because it's a 1001 book and there's a group read going on now. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy it. This is the story of Ka, a Turkish poet who emigrated to Germany as a young adult. He travels back to Turkey all the way to Kars, a small city on the far East border of Turkey and ends up trapped there for several days in a snowstorm. His excuse for going to Kars is that he is writing a newspaper article on the suicides of several young Islamic women who committed suicide after being pressured to remove their head scarves, but he's actually going to reunite with a woman, Ipek, who he met years ago and is in love with. He wants her to come back to Germany with him. I actually really enjoyed the first 150 pages or so of this novel. Pamuk sets up the story well, creating a beautiful sense of the surroundings and describing the political and cultural tensions in Turkey, where the government wants to be secular but there is a large, vocal faction of Muslims who want an Islamic state.

As I read on several things began to bother me so much that they ruined my enjoyment of the book. One is that it's narrated by the author, who is re-telling Ka's story through notebooks that Ka kept while in Kars. This created a stilted kind of language that I could not get into. I felt that it was because of how far removed the language was from the actual events. What I mean is that Ka experiences these actions/conversations, paraphrases them into his journals, and then the author paraphrases yet again to create the novel. Add to that a translator and I have no idea what the flow of the language should have been, but it ended up not being good.

Also, the opinions of the characters in this book on both sides were pretty hard to take. There was no gray about anything - all was black and white. Over and over I read, if you don't believe in women wearing head scarves you are an atheist. Either side with political Islamists or you area western-loving atheist. It got really old.

And the worst part was Ka's "love" for Ipek. It was absolutely ridiculous. He is madly in lust with this woman who he does not know at all and feels his whole life hinges on her willingness to marry him and return to Germany. Their relationship was so far outside anything I would consider love that I was extremely annoyed. Plus, there was all of this serious political stuff going on (murders, beatings, suicides) and all Ka can think about is getting Ipek in bed and writing poems.

Whew - felt good to get all that off my chest! The sad thing about this book is that I felt like it really had potential. It just spiraled into this very pretentious novel with utterly selfish characters that I just couldn't enjoy.

Original Publication Date: 2002
Author’s nationality: Turkish
Original language: Turkish
Length: 426 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 2.5 stars

Feb 20, 2012, 1:54pm Top

I enjoyed your review of Snow Jennifer, as I also found it to be a bit of a "slog". And frankly, that has held me back from reading other Pamuk works, several of which I own. But I always believe in giving an author a second chance, especially a Nobel prize winner!

Feb 20, 2012, 2:14pm Top

Yes, even as much as I ended up disliking Snow, I would be willing to try his other books. There was enough that I liked at the beginning of the book for me to think that it might have been this particular topic that I just didn't get, not necessarily his overall writing style.

Feb 20, 2012, 3:57pm Top

I read My Name is Red, and although it took me a while to become immersed in the history of the miniaturist painters of the Turkish court, eventually I was fascinated. It's a murder mystery, which builds up in layers.

Feb 20, 2012, 8:35pm Top

My Name is Red sounds much more interesting to me than Snow. I will put it on the TBR list. I think the nature of Snow revolving around current events just didn't work for me so My Name is Red should feel pretty different to read. Thanks for the suggestion!

Feb 21, 2012, 2:43am Top

Agree with your review of Snow - I found the characters flat and annoying and the obsession with one character taking off her head scarf did seem to be very black/white. I finished it because I wanted to find out what happened since they mention it halfway through the book but really felt eh about the whole thing.

Feb 21, 2012, 6:55am Top

I have not read Snow but have been to Turkey and in fact spent a little time in Kars, which was not a very hospitable place. I was therefore very interested in your review. In a town like Kars I felt that everything was very black and white and that was just "the way of the people" and so I was not surprised to see that you had come across this in Snow.

Feb 21, 2012, 8:38pm Top

DieFledermaus - I also felt that I had to finish it, though the last 100 pages were quite a struggle!

Barry - Interesting that you've been to Kars! It's seems like such a remote place. I just didn't feel that I knew enough about the politics of the region to know where Pamuk was coming from. Interesting that you remember it not being a particularly hospitable place. I guess that's why Pamuk chose the setting.

Feb 21, 2012, 8:45pm Top

#14 Persuasion by Jane Austen
Ahhhhhhh. I know it's cliche for a woman in her 30s to love Jane Austen, but I do. This was a re-read, I'm not sure how many times, probably 3? Last year jfetting had a discussion on her thread about ranking Austen's books and rereading this didn't change mine. Persuasion is #3 (behind P&P and Emma) for me. I love Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth, but the other characters and situations aren't flushed out as well as in my two favorites. Still a 5 star read for me though! Nothing cleanses the reading palate and gets me in the mood to read more than revisiting Austen.

Original Publication Date: 1817
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 303 pages
Other books read by this author: Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Sanditon, The Watsons, Lady Susan
Rating: 5 stars

Feb 21, 2012, 10:28pm Top

I'm a big Jane Austen fan as well, and I barely remember my thirties. Oh, to be young again (yada-yada-yada) . . . and I love Persuasion, probably second only to Pride and Prejudice.

Feb 22, 2012, 1:29am Top

Thanks for your helpful review of Snow, Jennifer. I think I'll put it aside (as I was planning to read it next month for the Reading Globally 1st quarter challenge), and read My Name Is Red instead.

Feb 22, 2012, 6:53am Top

Jennifer, Persuasion was #1 for me, but the order changes every time I do a re-read

Feb 22, 2012, 12:01pm Top

I still need to read Persuasion, but everything I've read by Austen has become a favourite. Thanks for the enthusiasm!

Feb 22, 2012, 1:11pm Top

The "young girl" in me still loves P & P most of all, even though the more cynical "old girl" is growing to appreciate the story line in Persuasion.

Feb 23, 2012, 11:56am Top

Interesting review of Snow. Somewhere around 2005 I read a review in the NYTimes that led me to later purchase a copy. But I've also heard elsewhere that it's a challenging read. Don't expect My Name is Red to be an easy read. It is interesting and playful on many levels, definitely worth reading, but also challenging to get through.

Feb 23, 2012, 12:25pm Top

Hi everyone - yep, all the talk of "ranking" Jane Austen is just academic to me since I love them all. I like hearing which ones are favorites for others!

kidzdoc - I'll be very curious to hear what you think of My Name is Red.

dchaikin - I see myself taking a long break from Pamuk, but keeping an open mind to reading My Name is Red in the future. I'll prepare for it to take some work to read!

Edited: Feb 24, 2012, 8:37am Top

#15 The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
I loved this short novel that is basically a ghost story. The story is told through the first person account of a governess who is hired by the uncle and guardian of two children who live in a house in the country. The governess is told that the uncle doesn't want to be bothered at all about the kids and the governess is left to fend for herself with them. Soon after arriving at the house, the boy is sent home from his boarding school for unidentified misbehavior and the governess begins to see two ghosts. She finds from the housekeeper that these are the ghosts of former workers at the house. I wouldn't consider any of that info to be spoilers, but I won't give any more of the plot away for those who haven't read this yet. I'll just say that James is very good at giving just enough info to make your imagination run wild and there is not a neat, clean ending so your imagination can continue filling in the details after you're done reading. I read this on my kindle and I was shocked when I clicked "next page" and saw THE END.

One thing that took me a long time to get into is the sentence construction and use of way too many commas!!!! For instance:

In the first weeks the days were long; they often, at their finest, gave me what I used to call my own hour, the hour when, for my pupils, teatime and bedtime having come and gone, I had, before my final retirement, a small interval alone.

Yikes!! That's a complicated sentence for a really simple idea.

Original Publication Date: 1898
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 120 pages
Other books read by this author: The Portrait of a Lady
Rating: 4.5 stars

Feb 23, 2012, 10:03pm Top

Is this a ghost story, or was the governess fooling herself?

Feb 24, 2012, 2:37am Top

>143 japaul22: - I agree with you about that ending - keeps you thinking about the book long after finishing it. The Portrait of a Lady was like that too. Later James is pretty clause-filled and opaque. The Turn of the Screw is actually restrained compared to some of his other books. He's one of my favorite authors, but I sort of agree with a description I read comparing his writing to 'a hippopotamus straining to pick a daisy'. But I think he's also able to convey 'the texture of consciousness' in a highly original way. There are a number of really great early James novels though.

>144 Nickelini: - That seems to be the question with that book. I'm not sure what critical consensus is today but it seemed that there were many overheated critical theories about how the governess is hysterical, in love with the uncle and probably imagining all the ghosts (though there is room to doubt their appearances). Some of those mention that her last scene with Miles is all about sex.

Feb 24, 2012, 3:27am Top

>143 japaul22: - Good review! I haven't read this in a while, but I also remember enjoying it very much.

>145 DieFledermaus: - I've heard these critical theories before. I think that, much like with Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the inherent ambiguity of the text has led to many different opinions concerning the actual 'meaning' of the text. I like to think that this is what James intended with the novella, but I've also heard that he considered his more supernatural tales as 'pot-boilers', so who knows.

Feb 24, 2012, 8:21am Top

Very good and interesting review. Wondering what the title refers to.

Feb 24, 2012, 8:37am Top

***SPOILER ALERT*** Discussion of Turn of the Screw

Nickelini - That's the question, isn't it? Even though there's lot of possible evidence to the contrary, I thought there were actual ghosts. Remember how she describes the ghost of Quint perfectly before she's ever heard of him? But there are so many other (mainly unanswerable except by the imagination) questions . . .

What did these people actually die of?
What was with the governess's strange comments about the Uncle and her appearance - seemed to be some odd sexual tension there.
Just what did Miles tell the other kids at school to get him expelled?
Why did Mrs. Grose believe the governess so easily - or was that my impression because of the unreliable narrator?
Did Quint and Mrs. Jessel abuse the kids (I think this might have been more than implied, but I can't remember a specific passage that says it)?
What made the Uncle completely cut all ties with the kids?
Do you think the Uncle "recieved" Flora when she showed up with Mrs. Grose?
The kids were, at least to me, presented as being suspicious characters. What role did they play in the evil of the house? How much of it was just the governess's POV? Didn't Mrs. Grose seem to back up the governess's view?

In the end, I think that James intended it to be ambiguous. I've read that his subsequent comments about the book only confuse matters more. I think the brilliance of the book is how much it leaves open and how the reader's imagination has to fill in the blanks. Since it's so short, I'm considering reading it again to see how it changes on a second reading.

Feb 24, 2012, 10:39am Top

>147 dchaikin: - Dan, I always thought that the title referred to the 'ratcheting up' of the tension in the book - I think James mentions this in the novella.

>148 japaul22: - Interesting discussion. I'm one of those who always likes to believe at least in the possibility of ghosts, in real life as well as fiction. Have you read Wuthering Heights? It also famously has ghosts in it - or has it?

Edited: Feb 24, 2012, 1:53pm Top

>149 dmsteyn: Beloved by Toni Morrison is like that too. She gives you a way out to believe that wasn't really a ghost, but I like to think there was.

And, yes, I read and loved Wuthering Heights and also believe in the ghosts. It's funny that I am so ready to believe in them in books because I'm practical to a fault about that kind of stuff in real life!

Feb 24, 2012, 1:26pm Top

I think the "ghosts" option is way more fun than the "not ghosts" but I like it when authors are ambiguous about it (as in all the cases mentioned).

Feb 24, 2012, 3:27pm Top

Now I'm going to have to reread The Turn of the Screw. Your list of questions in the spoiler post (#148) has got me reeling because I've forgotten so much. Great post! Oh, and excellent review!

Feb 24, 2012, 6:10pm Top

That's a disadvantage of reading on a kindle, you can be surprised when you get to the end. The pages to come are a mystery. Pretty spooky really.

Good review jennifer.

Feb 27, 2012, 11:32am Top

Hi everyone! Just had to share that today's my birthday and I got 4 BEAUTIFUL new books! All are second hand but in excellent condition. 3 are Easton Press editions - Vanity Fair, The Sound and the Fury, and Peer Gynt. And I also got a Folio Society edition of Middlemarch. I'm SO excited!!! What a great husband I have!

Feb 27, 2012, 11:34am Top

Happy Birthday, fellow Aquarian! Indeed you do have a great husband. Congrats!

Feb 27, 2012, 12:11pm Top

Happy Birthday! A great assortment of titles, too.

Feb 27, 2012, 4:06pm Top

What a great haul and husband. Happy Birthday.

Feb 27, 2012, 4:08pm Top

A Folio Society edition. Wonderful.

Happy birthday!

Feb 27, 2012, 7:12pm Top

Happy Birthday, Jennifer!

Feb 27, 2012, 7:12pm Top

Jennifer, Vanity Fair is wonderful I read it recently. Happy Birthday.

Edited: Mar 6, 2012, 9:05pm Top

#16 War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk
Wow. This book has been quite an experience to read. I came upon it because I decided that one of my categories for the 12 in 12 challenge would be books published in the year of birth, and this book fit the bill. So last year I read The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance is the sequel. War and Remembrance is historical fiction about WWII. Wouk writes an amazingly detailed account of the war that I found incredibly interesting. Usually with military historical fiction, I get bored with the military part and just want to read about the characters - this book was the opposite. In fact, the characters in this book are pretty flat and one-dimensional. They are put in unrealistic situations to further Wouk's telling of the war. But for whatever reason, it didn't bother me. Wouk keeps the focus on what matters.

The most emotionally charged and best-written part of this book revolves around the Holocaust. The characters involved are the most interesting in the book. I don't know what to say to do this part of the book justice, but it was all very horrifying and moving and unforgettable.

At over 2000 pages for the combined books, this is quite an undertaking in terms of time, but it's a surprisingly easy book to read. I think it will really help give me a background for some of the non-fiction military history books that my husband has been bugging me to read.

Original Publication Date: 1978
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 1042 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 4.5 stars

Mar 7, 2012, 11:43am Top

A very interesting review, japaul. Unfortunately, the length just doesn't fit in with my immediate reading plans, especially since it is a sequel to another book that I have not read! I'm looking back at your other recent reads and wondering how you find the time.

Mar 7, 2012, 12:25pm Top

Hi Linda, yes these books are a time commitment, but they actually do read rather quickly. As far as finding the time to read, I've just made it more of a priority in the last couple of years. I cut out most tv in favor of reading and I read every night for a couple of hours after my son goes to bed at 7:30 - can't leave the house anyway with him asleep! Also, I'm very lucky that my job basically has part time hours so I don't work the long hours that a lot of people do.

I will say that at the beginning of this year I was almost stressed out about all of the books I wanted to read. I had to take a step back and remind myself that this is supposed to be fun and that I have many, many years of reading ahead. But there are so many books out there!

Mar 16, 2012, 2:41am Top

A very late happy birthday, fellow Piscean. Poquette and I have both claimed you.

Mar 17, 2012, 8:20am Top

>164 pamelad: Yep, I think I'm a pisces, but I'm pretty close to the cusp. Haven't thought about it much since reading teen magazine horoscopes in high school!

Edited: Mar 17, 2012, 8:45am Top

#17 Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie
I loved this biography of the Empress of Russia, Catherine II. I knew very little about Catherine and this biography really covers all the bases. Catherine was a German-born minor princess who ended up becoming arguably the second most powerful leader of monarchical Russia, behind Peter the Great. The book looks at her entire life, but I think the title hints at Massie's focus of the book which was that Catherine was a real person, a woman with real desires, interests, and intellect. After deposing her husband, Peter III, she had a string of "favorites", i.e. lovers, though she (probably) never remarried. She continued the Romanov line with the son of one of these lovers, accepted as the son of Peter III by the public. She loved reading, the arts, and stimulating conversation. She amassed one of the most impressive art collections of her time and corresponded with Voltaire and Diderot. Early in her reign she wrote the Nakaz, a huge document outlining her thoughts on government and its relationship to its people (among many other things). In it she writes about the plight of the serfs and her hopes to make their lives better. She had to give this up because of the politics of the time, but her great-grandson, Alexander II, abolished serfdom. She expanded her empire and controlled uprisings with a relatively gentle hand. Her fear from the ramifications of the French Revolution changed some of this benevolence at the end of her reign, but overall she seemed a rather enlightened monarch comparatively, though she did believe in absolute monarchy. Her support of the arts and education for Russians led to a great generation in Russian arts with Tolstoy, Pushkin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Diaghelev, etc.

The information is fascinating and the writing is excellent in this book. My only quibble is that I thought the maps could have been better and I missed having a genealogy chart and timeline of events. I will definitely be looking into Massie's other Russian biographies.

Original Publication Date: 2011
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 656 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 4.5 stars

Mar 17, 2012, 9:11am Top

A wonderful review of Catherine the Great: Portraits of a Woman, japaul. I have been very anxious to read this book but haven't yet laid my hands on a copy. But you have reminded me that he has written other biographies that I could be enjoying in the meantime. Thanks!

Mar 17, 2012, 9:47am Top

Thanks, Linda. I had this book on hold at the library for about 6 weeks, but it was worth the wait!

Mar 17, 2012, 2:20pm Top

Catherine the Great sounds like a very interesting book.

>164 pamelad: and 165 — it turns out I know less about astrological signs than I thought. I see "February" and think Aquarius, but I now see that the dates for Aquarius end on February 18th, so I can't claim anything, especially to know what I'm talking about. ;-)

Mar 18, 2012, 1:08am Top

I've been considering reading Catherine--thanks for the review!

Mar 18, 2012, 9:25pm Top

>169 Poquette: No worries! I don't put much stock into astrological signs anyway! Thanks for the happy birthday!

>170 karspeak: I think you'd really like it!

Mar 18, 2012, 9:33pm Top

#18 Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
Another great book by Margaret Atwood, though not my favorite of hers that I've read. This book is a first person narrative of a woman artist (painter in her terms) who goes back to her hometown for a retrospective at a gallery and revisits her memories. It is very raw and personal and I keep wondering how much of it is based on the author's life. It was very hard to read the elementary school memories of how mean girls are to each other. That hit a little too close to home. What I didn't like about the book was what really makes it a great work - it just is relentlessly inside this narrator's life and memories, all the pain and anxiety. It really got to me.

Actually this book would qualify as a "most disturbing" for me in answer to one of avaland's first questions.

Original Publication Date: 1998
Author’s nationality: Canadian
Original language: English
Length: 480
Other books read by this author: The Handmaid's Tale, The Blind Assassin
Rating: 3.5 stars

Mar 20, 2012, 10:31pm Top

It never occurred to me to link Catherine the Great with Tolstoy, etc...actually I had never thought of it before. Interesting review.

Mar 21, 2012, 5:09am Top

Very nice review of Catherine the Great. I'll mention it to a friend who recently went to Russia and works for a travel company.

Cat's Eye sounds like one to pair with a non-depressing book.

Mar 22, 2012, 4:10pm Top

re: #172: I recommend this one to anyone interested in trying to understand how girls are not always so sweet and nice to each other. I just remember thinking throughout reading it, 'yup, that's about right...' and feeling at the end that she captured it all so well. As you say, raw.

Mar 23, 2012, 1:48am Top

At the time I read it, I really liked Cat's Eye. Wasn't part of the story that she was seeing her friendships in a different light as an adult going bac?

Mar 25, 2012, 8:46am Top

>176 bonniebooks: I think part of the book was seeing the whole picture of her friendship with Cordelia, but it's so hard to tell with a first person narrator. You know - are her memories accurate, how much is colored by later experience, etc. In the end I thought it was a great but uncomfortable book to read.

Edited: Mar 25, 2012, 8:55am Top

#19 We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
What a creepy little novel! Jackson is a really a master of this kind of story. She strikes a perfect balance between what is and isn't said and gives your imagination free rein to fill in the rest. Loved it!

I read on someone else's thread around here that this book is based on the true crime described in The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, which I loved. Although some of the names are the same, I didn't see much else that was really similar between the two. Curious if anyone saw more of that than I did.

Original Publication Date: 1962
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 143
Other books read by this author: The Lottery and Other Stories
Rating: 4.5

Mar 25, 2012, 9:15am Top

Oh, I love Shirley Jackson. I will have to seek this one out. There's always room for short and well-done creepy! Thanks for the review, japaul.

Mar 25, 2012, 10:32am Top

My only experience with Jackson is the classic 'The Lottery' - which I later found fun to teach, too. I'll have to keep an eye out for this one.

Mar 26, 2012, 2:22am Top

>178 japaul22: - I also loved that book - definitely creepy! I had never heard that it was based on a true crime either. The reviews for The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher mention that the detective in that case was the inspiration for many literary detectives but nothing about the Jackson. Maybe she took a cue from the idea of suspicions falling on the family and community ostracism?

Mar 27, 2012, 3:39pm Top

>179 Linda92007:, 180 I think you'll like We have Always Lived in the Castle if you like Jackson. It's great.

>181 DieFledermaus: Yes, there is similarity with the family being suspected and in the community reaction, but it wasn't very close to me. It by no means, ruined the book for me though. I'm just curious if I'm missing something.

Mar 27, 2012, 4:14pm Top

Re: 181, 182: I'd read that The Lottery was strongly influenced by her feeling very ostracized by the community where she lived (I want to say Vermont or someplace Northeast cold and difficult to be accepted). Looking at the comments and descriptions of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, it seems like a definite theme she addresses in her writing.

Mar 27, 2012, 5:17pm Top

>183 ljbwell: That makes a lot of sense. Community ostracism shapes this whole book and the contrast between solitude and being part of the town in central.

Edited: Mar 27, 2012, 8:25pm Top

#20 The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Wilkerson won the Pulitzer for this narrative non-fiction book about the Great Migration, the mass exodus of blacks from the south to the north and west from the early 1900s until 1970. Wilkerson writes this book masterfully. She interviewed 1200 migrants and ended up framing the book around 3 of these people’s lives. She intersperses their life stories with facts about the times. I won’t get into the details of the book or I won’t know where to stop, but it is very readable and the topic is important for any American to be able to understand our country.

As an American born in 1978, I missed all of this, but have seen a lot of the ramifications that she discusses. Having grown up in the far suburbs of Chicago, and considering that the city of Chicago was one of the meccas for blacks leaving the south, a lot of the things she discusses really hit home. I’ve also lived in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and currently live in Washington, D.C., all cities that were shaped by the Great Migration. This book has really opened up my eyes and I can see it influencing a lot of my thoughts in terms of other literature I read and, of course, the politics of the day.

I really feel at a loss as to how to describe this book, so all I can say is - just read it!

Original Publication Date: 2011
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 640
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 5 stars

Edited: Mar 27, 2012, 7:23pm Top

In answering the best books of the quarter question over in What Are You Reading Now I included The Warmth of Other Suns in my answer.


Mar 27, 2012, 8:31pm Top

It's definitely one of my favorites of year too, Robert. I thought it was so great that by focusing on three lives she was able to both make them representative of large groups of migrants and shatter stereotypes at the same time.

Mar 29, 2012, 8:58pm Top

#21 Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
Loved it! This is the first novel I've read by Pym. I just knew from LT reviews that I would love her books. This has just the right pacing, humor, and character development for me. I love the ordinariness of the characters and the realistic ending (don't want to give anything away!). I'll be reading lots more of Pym's writing.

Original Publication Date: 1952
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 231 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 4.5 stars

Mar 29, 2012, 10:23pm Top

Warmth of Other Suns - wish I would just read it...well that is about 500 other books. Will keep it in mind.

Apr 1, 2012, 3:05pm Top

#22 Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
***mild spoilers follow***
And another "loved it"! I was in just the right mood for this novel about a young man who just lets life happen to him. It's funny and sarcastic and I was very amused by how much Paul enjoys being in jail at the end. He hears of and experiences all kinds of events that could be highly traumatic, but nothing seems to affect him much at all. I need to read more Evelyn Waugh.

Original Publication Date: 1928
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 293 pages
Other books read by this author: Brideshead Revisited
Rating: 4.5 stars

Apr 1, 2012, 3:15pm Top

That sounds great, onto the pile it goes. Thanks for the review!

Apr 10, 2012, 11:31am Top

I've got rather behind with LT, but I wanted to say thanks for bringing Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman to my attention. It sounds like a great read. You've also made me want to re-read Cat's Eye and confirmed that I should get round to Excellent Women sooner rather than later!

Apr 10, 2012, 3:41pm Top

I think it's time to revisit Barbara Pym. She does write well, doesn't she?

Apr 10, 2012, 8:52pm Top

Hi to karspeak, Rebeki, and RidgewayGirl! I did love Pym's writing. I have Quartet in Autumn calling to me from my bookshelf.

Apr 10, 2012, 10:20pm Top

Oh no, should not have come to your link! I will now have to check out Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle as well as Waugh. Got to stop this!

Apr 13, 2012, 6:31am Top

>190 japaul22: - For more Waugh - A Handful of Dust was also sarcastic fun with a lot of black humor. I wouldn't recommend Scoop because the racist caricatures put me off Waugh for a long time. Everyone loved Brideshead Revisited so I have that on the pile now and hopefully I'll get to it soon. Will also make note of Decline and Fall.

Apr 13, 2012, 8:50am Top

We certainly do have many of the same tastes! I just finished Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence. What are your thoughts on House of Mirth? I also have Poisonweed Bible and Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter on my TBR pile. I'm so glad that you are able to do what you enjoy for a living! My mother also played the French Horn, but her forte was really voice and piano. DC is one of my favorite cities. In fact, I took an apt. there last summer and stayed from June-August. I worked as an intern at the Naval Museum of History. I only worked 20 hours per week so that gave me plenty of time to go to my favorite haunts and more without school children or grandchildren!

Apr 13, 2012, 12:51pm Top

Die Fledermaus - yes, Waugh is not the most tactful of authors to say the least. Decline and Fall has a little racism in it as well, but it's not an extensive section of the book and I would guess it's not as bad as Scoop. The black character is only in a chapter or two so the racism doesn't pervade the whole book.

tess_i_am - I loved House of Mirth - even better than Age of Innocence for me. I have a short synopsis of my thoughts in message 111 of this thread. http://www.librarything.com/topic/106136
That's neat that your mom played french horn - it's not that common of an instrument. We love living in DC - except for the cost of living!

Apr 17, 2012, 11:47am Top

I'm having a slow reading month because I don't think I've ever been this busy at work, but I finally finished another book.

#23 The Virgin in the Garden by A.S. Byatt
This is my first attempt at reading Byatt and I'm honestly not sure what I thought. I liked it, but there were definitely aspects of the book that I didn't connect with. This is a hard book to describe. It's basically a family drama and is the first of a series of four books following the Potter family, specifically Frederica Potter. But then again, the family drama description doesn't work too well, because the family rarely interacts. The entire book is a flashback from the early 70s to 1953, the year of Elizabeth II's coronation. This event and the production of a play written by one of the main characters about the reign of Elizabeth I frame the novel.

First the positives - I very much enjoyed Byatt's style. She has a beautiful way of describing setting. She also strikes a good balance between wordy description and succinct characterizations. I think she's brilliant at choosing the right way to describe each setting, character and event either in a long, drawn-out way or in one sentence. That was neat. It's also rare that I like a book in which I pretty much hate every character, but somehow she did it even though it did detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.

The negatives would be, again, that I didn't really like any of the characters. Everyone was very immature and had terrible judgment. Also, there were a lot of people almost having sex and that was annoying. I felt like screaming either do it or leave each other alone !!!! to almost every character. Also, one of the characters, Marcus, who is the brother of Frederica Potter is either a genius or crazy and befriends a seriously crazy teacher. There are lots of chapters about these strange metaphysical ideas that they have that I found pretty boring to read.

So, overall I liked Byatt's writing without particularly liking this book. I'm curious to try Possession since I've heard great things about it, but I'm not sure I'll continue with this 4 book series.

Original Publication Date: 1978
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 428 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 3 stars

Edited: Apr 17, 2012, 5:21pm Top

Nice review of The Virgin in the Garden, Jennifer. I rad and enjoyed The Children's Book, and I plan to read Possession in the near future, but I'll keep away from this book.

ETA: Ooh, mine is message 200! Do I win a free toaster oven or car wash?

Apr 17, 2012, 6:31pm Top

Interesting review of The Virgin in the Garden I will get around to it one day because I loved Possession

Apr 18, 2012, 8:34am Top

Thanks Darryl and Barry! I'm positive that my opinion of The Virgin in the Garden is going to shift over the next months - I'm just not sure which way!

Darryl - no toaster oven for message 200, but a big thanks for posting! :-)

Apr 24, 2012, 2:22pm Top

#24 Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
This is a prequel to Jane Eyre that imagines the life of Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester's mad wife, before she meets Mr. Rochester and through their early relationship in the Caribbean. The writing style is pretty and imaginative, though sometimes I wished that Rhys would be a bit more straightforward about the plot instead of talking around things so much. Mr. Rochester does not come off very well in this book, and I have to admit that I never really gelled this book with Jane Eyre. The writing styles are just too different to really connect them in my mind. That being said, it's a good book on its own and I'm glad I read it. It's an interesting look at race and economic classes in the 19th century Caribbean.

Original Publication Date: 1966
Author’s nationality: Caribbean (Dominica)
Original language: English
Length: 171
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 3.5 stars

Apr 24, 2012, 7:57pm Top

Interesting point you make about the difference of the writing styles. This should be obvious, but I can see where you are coming from in having difficulties in making the connection between the two books.

Edited: Apr 26, 2012, 3:50pm Top

#25 Elizabeth the Queen: the Life of a Modern Monarch by Sally Bedell Smith
This is a biography of Elizabeth II that I received from the Early Reviewers program. It was published to coincide with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, celebrating 60 years on the throne. The book is light and fun to read. Smith chooses to focus on the Queen's personal relationships, work habits, hobbies, and interests instead of making this an analysis of the monarchy or an overly scholarly work. She touches on Elizabeth II's interactions with each of the Prime Ministers she has worked with and mentions world events without going into too much detail. There is a lot of discussion about other members of the Royal Family, including Prince Phillip, Charles, Diana (of course!), and William and Kate. The book gets a bit gossipy at times, but that was fun too! The book has lots of fantastic pictures, many in full color.

Overall, I felt like I got a pretty good sense of the Queen's role and how she has viewed her position as Queen. This was a fun book to read.

Original Publication Date: 2012
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 544 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 3.5 stars

Apr 27, 2012, 8:40am Top

Years ago I read all of Jean Rhys's books, and Wide Sargasso Sea was my favourite. You need some sympathy for passive, alcoholic women drifting from man to man to appreciate Rhys's other books, which I did then. I think they might all be Jean.

Edited: Apr 28, 2012, 9:13pm Top

#26 Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
I am in love with this book. As soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again - that or read The Iliad again. This is a retelling of the story of Achilles told from the point of view of Patroclus. In The Iliad, Patroclus is Achilles' companion and his death at the hands of Hector spurs Achilles into a violent killing spree that ultimately ends in his death. In the Iliad, Patroclus is a relatively minor character, but in this retelling, he is central to Achilles' life and his motivations.

Miller does a beautiful job of telling a modern love story while seamlessly weaving mythology into her book. It's a stunning mix and works so effortlessly. You feel like you're right there with the ancients, but somehow don't feel alienated by their customs and gods at all because the love story is so strong. I loved how she weaves in the prophecies as well. You are never allowed to forget that fate rules the lives of these characters.

Seeing Achilles through Patroclus' eyes humanizes him in a way that reading The Iliad never did for me. It brought up so many questions and thoughts in my mind about his decisions and motivations and themes that go along with them. I know I will never be able to read the Iliad or any other re-telling of Achilles's story without thinking that this novel's new take on his story is the absolute right one. That's a pretty big feat for a story that's been told for 2800 years.

Original Publication Date: 2012
Author’s nationality: American
Original language: English
Length: 384
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 5 stars

ETA - The only negative I can come up with about this book is that I bought it to read over the next couple weeks at work. We have a recording project that we do this time of year, so we take lots of short breaks so our conductors can listen to takes. I've found that I need something engaging that's easy to get sucked into quickly and I was hoping this would work. Unfortunately, I read it so fast that now I need to find something else!

Apr 29, 2012, 12:44am Top

Terrific review. There have been two or three other positive reviews here in CR recently.

Apr 29, 2012, 6:17am Top

Great review, Jennifer! I was also sucked into the story, as I read it in a single sitting last Sunday.

Apr 30, 2012, 5:04am Top

A very good review of The Song of Achilles. Seems to be a positive critical consensus forming so I'll add it to the list.

Apr 30, 2012, 9:36am Top

Great review Jennifer, especially your references back to The Iliad.

Apr 30, 2012, 2:43pm Top

The Song of Achilles is something to keep in mind after I read The Iliad, which I hope to do later this year.

May 1, 2012, 9:55am Top

Hi japaul, going back to Wide Sargasso Sea, it's not the most straightforward of reads, is it? I was thankful my edition had lots of notes, though I recently had to read it again for my reading group and things were much clearer second time around.

I assumed the incoherence of the narrative reflected Antoinette's state of mind, while Jane Eyre is a much more straightforward sort of character and also narrates her story from a later point in life, which lends her account even more clarity. I'm not sure it was Rhys's intention to write anything akin to Jane Eyre, more that, coming from the Caribbean herself, she felt inspired to give the two-dimensional and demonised Bertha Mason a voice.

I do like pamelad's comment in #206 and will bear this in mind when reading other works by Jean Rhys!

Your review of The Song of Achilles has me itching to read it, though I do think I ought to tackle The Iliad first, and that seems a daunting prospect...

May 1, 2012, 1:39pm Top

Hi Rebeki - My version of Wide Sargasso Sea didn't have any notes. I wonder how much I missed! I also think the incoherence was a reflection of Antoinette's state of mind, but also to set up a contrast with England and show how altered Rochester was in the Caribbean. I liked the book, but I just needed a little more of something - I'm not sure what.

About Song of Achilles, I certainly don't think you NEED to read The Iliad first, though I understand why you would want to. I don't know if you have an edition picked out, but I enjoyed the Fagles translation.

Thanks for your comments!

Edited: May 6, 2012, 2:51pm Top

#27 Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
This is going to be a difficult book to review, because I don't want to give away any of the plot. Instead, I'll just give my general impressions. To give an idea of what the book is about, it's written in first person by an unreliable narrator. This basic story revolves around the narrator's experience in Scotland with the Gillespie family in 1880, but is written as a flashback in the narrator's old age in 1933. Harris does a great job of revealing the narrator's character through her perception of events. Even though you can tell the narrator, Harriet, is trying to make you see things her way, the reader can gets hints of her true character and hints of how the Gillespies viewed her. This is very well done. Harriet is somewhere between annoying and diabolical depending on what you believe, but is pretty amusing as well. The book is a page turner and I enjoyed it a lot. I can see why it made the Orange prize long list this year.

Original Publication Date: 2012
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 528 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 4 stars

May 6, 2012, 3:32pm Top

Another enthusiastic review of Gillespie and I. I need to stop reading these and just read the book!

May 6, 2012, 6:39pm Top

Glad to see another good review of Gillespie and I since it's on the list.

Edited: May 12, 2012, 12:04pm Top

#28 The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak
From the title you can probably guess that this is historical fiction set in the time of Catherine the Great of Russia. I thought this would be fun to read because I recently read a biography of Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie that I loved. This novel tries to tell Catherine's story through the eyes of Varvara, a orphan who ends up a servant in the Winter Palace, moves her way up through spying, and ends up a friend of Catherine. There were some things I liked about the book. One was that the details were very accurate and matched up with the non-fiction I just read. The first half of the book really grabbed my attention. Unfortunately, the book had too many flaws for me to really recommend it. I think that the author just couldn't decide who the book was really about - Varvara or Catherine. The title leads the reader to believe that Catherine is central, but she doesn't succeed in painting a clear picture of Catherine. Also, the book only goes up to Catherine's accession to the throne so most of Catherine's life is waiting around and being marginalized by Empress Elizabeth. The book needed to either be trashier (in a good, gossipy way) or be better written to qualify as a really good book.

All in all, I'm not sorry I read it, but I didn't like it enough to recommend it. I think the author is planning a sequel which I won't be reading unless I'm really bored.

Original Publication Date: 2012
Author’s nationality: Polish
Original language: English
Length: 424
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 3 stars

May 12, 2012, 10:45am Top

Sorry to hear that The Winter Palace falls short, japaul. But I do greatly appreciate your review. I think I will stick with reading the Massie biography.

Edited: May 13, 2012, 12:35pm Top

In honor of mother's day, I thought I share some of the books I read every day (multiple times) to my 2 1/2 year old son, William. Here are a few of his current favorites - he knows large portions by heart!

May 13, 2012, 1:54pm Top

#29 Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
This was the first book I've read by Virginia Woolf and it won't be the last. Mrs. Dalloway is set on one summer day in London in 1923. But though the book only takes place in one day, Woolf manages to tell a lifetime of stories for her many characters in this one short book. The book revolves around Clarissa Dalloway and the party she is throwing that evening and the suicide of Septimus Smith, a war veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress (or whatever they would have called it then). Almost all of the action takes place inside the minds of the many characters that are introduced, which made for a very interesting and different way to read a book.

This is one of those books that I know I won't stop thinking about for a long time, though honestly I didn't connect with it at first. Woolf's writing is very lyrical, and I found myself reading whole paragraphs and then realizing that I had no idea what I'd just read because the words just roll along so beautifully. Once I got used to the pace I needed to read at, I was able to both understand the story and appreciate the language. I'm looking forward to trying out some more of Woolf's books soon.

Original Publication Date: 1925
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 190
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 4 stars

May 13, 2012, 3:40pm Top

I have not yet read Mrs. Dalloway although I have been meaning to. To the Lighthouse is another one I suspect you would enjoy for all the same reasons. Woolf's use of stream of consciousness creates some unexpected effects which also caused the book to stay with me for quite a long time.

Edited: May 14, 2012, 9:15am Top

#214 - I'd really have struggled without the notes! My Penguin Modern Classics edition also explained the historical context and obeah etc., which was most helpful.

Thank you for recommending the Fagles translation of The Iliad. Part of the reason why I thought I should read The Iliad before tackling The Song of Achilles is that I've had it on my shelves (in a different edition) for over 10 years, a fact that's long been bothering me. Every time I picked it up and tried to read the first page, my eyes would glaze over.

Anyway, as luck would have it, I managed to find a copy of The Song of Achilles and the Fagles translation of The Iliad at my local library recently, so I decided it's meant to be! I've only read a couple of books of The Iliad so far, as I've had to put it aside to concentrate on books for my reading group, but I can't tell you the difference the translation makes! And, in a win-win situation, discarding my far less exciting version of it means my TBR has shrunk too!

#220 - A great post, and one that give me ideas for what to read with my son (who's far too young to care at the moment). I hope you had a good Mother's Day!

May 14, 2012, 5:46pm Top

Enjoyed reading your thoughts on Mrs Dalloway, which I think is a very fine novel and perhaps one of Woolf's most accessible. As you say the words she writes roll along so beautifully; it is worth reading anything you can by her.

The film "The Hours" is worth catching http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0274558/

May 15, 2012, 11:02am Top

#220 - thinking of when my kids were that age...

May 18, 2012, 9:21pm Top

Suzanne - I'm definitely interested in reading To the Lighthouse sooner than later - thanks for the suggestion!

Rebeki - So excited that you've picked up both Song of Achilles and The Iliad! Can't wait to hear what you think. And even though babies don't care what you read to them, I was so surprised at how early my son was engaged in the rhythms of reading and language. I'm having so much fun reading with him already - you're going to love it!

Barry - Thanks for the recommendation for The Hours. I've heard good things but haven't seen it yet. I also saw that there is at least one movie version of Mrs. Dalloway which I have to say I'm not at all interested in. I can't imagine making a meaningful movie out of that book!

dchaikin - It's such a fun age! 2 year olds say the funniest things!

May 18, 2012, 9:26pm Top

Hands, hands, fingers, thumb, dum-ditty, dum-ditty, dum dum dum.

I loved that book as a child. Should have read it to my own, but we were all about Sandra Boynton at that time.

May 18, 2012, 9:29pm Top

#30 Faithful Place by Tana French
Another excellent mystery by Irish author Tana French. This is the third book in her series centered around police officers in Dublin. For each book, she takes a somewhat peripheral character and let's him/her be the first person voice of the next book. I'm really enjoying this technique because her books all have a different flavor. This book was the weakest of the series for me - something about the predictability of the actual mystery - but I still enjoyed the book and loved the writing. I will definitely continue with this series when her newest book comes out this year.

Original Publication Date: 2010
Author’s nationality: Irish
Original language: English
Length: 416
Other books read by this author: In the Woods, The Likeness
Rating: 3.5 stars

May 19, 2012, 9:32am Top

I enjoyed your review of Faithful Place, japaul. This series has been tempting me for awhile, as it seems like it might be a nice diversion.

May 23, 2012, 9:09am Top

#31 The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov translated by Burgin and O'Connor
Wow. This is an amazing book about the Devil and his cohorts coming to Moscow in the 1930s and wreaking havoc. It was written in the 1930s, but because it was so subversive, it could not be published until the 1960s and even then was heavily censored. The book is packed with religious references, commentary on life under Stalin, and heavy metaphors. Yet on another level, it reads somewhere between fantasy and horror with terribly interesting characters and a fast-moving plot. This is a combination - intellectual, metaphorical, and readable - that I don't stumble upon as often a I'd like.

One of my favorite things about this book is how visual the language is. I'm not the kind of reader who typically paints a mental image of the words I'm reading, but it was unavoidable in this book - Satan's ball, the variety show with the emcee losing his head, and that cat!!! Unforgettable.

I did a little reading about the book on line, and it isn't considered an expressionist novel, but for some reason I couldn't help linking it with that movement. I know more about expressionist music than I do about expressionist literature, and I kept thinking of those composers as I read this book, especially Berg's opera, Wozzeck. I can't put my finger on why that is, but it helped me personally to enjoy and understand the book, so I'll go with it, even if it's wrong!

This book has been on my radar for a while now, but thanks to the CR group read for giving me the push to read it now.

Original Publication Date: written in the 1930s, published censored in 1960s, this edition in 1995
Author’s nationality: Russian
Original language: Russian
Length: 372 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 5 stars

May 23, 2012, 10:54am Top

Good stuff, you have me pondering expressionism in literature.

May 24, 2012, 12:56pm Top

#32 Don Quixote, Book One by Miguel de Cervantes trans. by Edith Grossman
Well, what can I say that hasn't already been said? I've finished book one of Don Quixote. I started reading in January, and it's my year long project to complete the book. Whether you've read the book or not, you probably know the basic plot; Don Quixote is obsessed with books of chivalry, goes mad, and takes Sancho Panza as a squire and Rocinante, his old horse, off on adventures believing he is a knight.

Some things that surprised me were how modern this very old book still feels. I suspect that since the story is so ingrained in our culture and literature it just feels familiar. I liked the women in this book. I was surprised that there were so many female characters and that they had so much personality and intelligence. I was surprised that the humor was so slap-stick and that it involved bodily functions so often! I was surprised at how sorry I felt for Don Quixote, who really should have been taken care of better with his mental illness. I had a hard time thinking some of the events that stemmed from his madness and resulted in injury were funny.

In the end, I'm very glad that I'm reading this book and I am enjoying it. But to be honest, I don't LOVE it. I like it, appreciate it, and am kind of in awe of how long ago it was written and how relevant a lot of it still is, but it's not necessarily my favorite book ever.

Original Publication Date: 1605
Author’s nationality: Spanish
Original language: Spanish
Length: 449 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 4 stars

May 24, 2012, 1:14pm Top

Congrats on finishing and interesting to read your response. I keep hearing how it's the best book ever, but I never know what "best" is meant those contexts.

May 24, 2012, 1:49pm Top

I personally loved the book and would revisit it again. I read it in 2 or so months and it was the greatest escape from graduate school and teaching summer classes. I really enjoyed the transition from part 1 to part 2. Cervantes taking cracks at the author who had tried to finish his work was fantastic.

However, I don't think I'd have enjoyed it as much if I spent a whole year on it. I think it's a great book to just get lost in and keep reading until your fingers can't turn a page anymore or your eyes start to droop from fatigue.

May 24, 2012, 2:00pm Top

I'm afraid of that book, but you're making me feel a little braver.

May 24, 2012, 2:07pm Top

Nickelini, have you ever read Dumas? It's kind of like reading Dumas as it's really just a big adventure story. It's a bit more philosophical than Dumas but not in a terribly hurt-your-brain kind of way.

May 24, 2012, 2:12pm Top

No, I'm afraid of Dumas too.

May 24, 2012, 2:56pm Top

Nice review of The Master and Margarita. Interesting comments about Wozzeck. I wouldn't think of those as being linked because the tone is quite different and I'd predictably think of Russian music or various Faust adaptations first for music choices. But the language for Wozzeck is pretty visual and metaphorical (mushrooms and blood and moons and such) and there's a similar feeling of things being "off".

May 24, 2012, 6:51pm Top

dchaikin - well, I to respect the opinion that it is "the best book ever". It's very obvious how much it influenced the next 400 years of the novel. Also, I've talked to a few native spanish speakers who have said how much the book shaped their language which makes me wish I could read it in spanish!

lilisin - I also can see myself rereading this book in a decade or so. I think it's an amazing work, I just haven't totally connected with it yet. Sometimes with this kind of work, I keep thinking about it after finishing and my opinion of it gets better. Plus, I'm only half way through! I think you might be right that I'm reading it too slowly, though. I'm considering making it more of a priority when I start the second half, though I don't think I could read it exclusively.

Nickelini - I'd say not to be afraid of Don Quixote or Dumas. They are both long, but not terribly complicated to read.

DieFledermaus - But the language for Wozzeck is pretty visual and metaphorical (mushrooms and blood and moons and such) and there's a similar feeling of things being "off".
Yes! The visual aspect of M and M was the most striking thing for me and I think that's why I made the connection. Plus some of the randomness and gore. I very, very rarely associate music or a musical movement with literature, so this was strange for me, but I wanted to mention it.

May 25, 2012, 8:30am Top

Excellent review of The Master and Margarita, japaul. You are so right about the language being very visual. I am just finishing up Part I and enjoying it immensely.

I applaud you for taking on Don Quixote as a year long read. I may borrow that approach at some point, as I have been avoiding it, not feeling at a point where I want to make that kind of time commitment. But since everything I have ever read about it says it is the foundation for all Western literature, it somehow seems an obligatory read.

May 27, 2012, 8:42am Top

Linda - Glad you're enjoying Master and Margarita too! Don Quixote is much more approachable than I thought it would be. As I said earlier, I'm not totally convinced that reading it slowly is giving me a full appreciation of the work, but I figure it's better than not reading it at all and I know it's a book I'll come back to at some point in my life.

May 27, 2012, 8:51am Top

#33 Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen
This is a classic of Norwegian writing. It's a play written in verse about the adventurous, impetuous, selfish Peer Gynt. Ibsen weaves in Norwegian folk lore, though the play also has a modern feel in sections (well, modern for the time it was written) as Peer Gynt travels the world. I was nervous about reading this as translated verse doesn't usually work for me, but I liked the story (even though Peer Gynt is a selfish ass) and I thought the translated verse worked pretty well. I like reading Norwegian classics because some of my ancestry is Norwegian and I've always been interested in the culture.

The best part of reading this was that I received a beautiful Easton Press Publication of the play with fantastic pictures and a beautiful lay out. I would say it definitely colored my reading of the play in a favorable way.

Original Publication Date: 1867
Author’s nationality: Norwegian
Original language: Norwegian
Length: 329 pages (large type)
Other books read by this author: A Doll's House
Rating: 4 stars

Edited: May 27, 2012, 10:18am Top

>241 japaul22: I loved Don Quixote! I was completely engrossed in it during a flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia several years ago, and completely ignored the attractive woman sitting next to me, and the very bumpy ascent after we took off. About 15 minutes into the flight the somewhat shaken woman grabbed my arm, looked at me, and said, tongue-slightly-in-cheek, "How can you read 'Don Quixote' when we're about to die?" I didn't ignore her after that.

>242 japaul22: I do want to read Ibsen's plays, but I don't think I'll get to any of them before next year, at the earliest.

May 27, 2012, 1:13pm Top

I read Peer Gynt last year in a Norton Critical Edition of Ibsen's plays, and generally enjoyed it, though I didn't think the verse translation worked particularly well. A Doll's House was quite a departure from his earlier works, wasn't it?

May 27, 2012, 2:32pm Top

Now Peer Gynt; lots of music connections their.

May 30, 2012, 8:21am Top

>243 kidzdoc: Great story, Darryl! I'm a little embarrassed that I am not devouring Don Quixote. I'm enjoying it, but not engrossed in it.

>244 dmsteyn: Yes, Peer Gynt is wildly different than A Doll's House. I have to say I like A Dolls House better. It definitely made a bigger impression on me since I last read it in high school and still remember it!

>245 baswood: yep, can't read Peer Gynt without thinking of Grieg!

May 30, 2012, 8:38am Top

#34 Lady Chatterly's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Another classic that I've finally gotten to! This was my first novel by D.H. Lawrence and the review is going to be a bit tricky. I am of two very separate minds about this book.

On the positive side, I liked Lawrence's writing and am eager to read more. Something about the flow and pacing really engaged me. The novel itself was very well-done in it's exploration of the ramifications of WWI on different social classes and sexes. I thought it was interesting to contrast the characters who were changed by the war vs. those who weren't (or tried not to be) and also the areas in which society/culture changed after the war vs. the ways it didn't. All the different combinations of these four possibilities made for a lot of interesting themes.

But then there's the negative. Obviously, this book is most known for the love scenes between Connie and Mellors. The problem is that these are really dated. Not only the language and the ideas of what good sex is, but the thought that their relationship is somehow ideal and lets them be themselves did not convince me. In fact, it offended me. Mellors in particular has some really offensive ideas about women and sex. He did not strike me as the epitome of manhood, as I think Lawrence intended him. I came away from the book hoping that Connie uses this experience as a stepping stone to a better, more balanced relationship, though I doubt that's what Lawrence intended me to hope.

Overall, I liked Lawrence's writing and want to read more of his novels, but I know this particular book won't be my favorite.

Original Publication Date: 1928
Author’s nationality: British
Original language: English
Length: 309 pages
Other books read by this author: none
Rating: 3.5 stars

Edited: May 30, 2012, 11:19am Top

>246 japaul22: It would have been a better story if she was single. :-( We had a lot in common and had a wonderful conversation for the entire flight, but she was visiting her boyfriend, who taught at Wharton.

>247 japaul22: Nice review of Lady Chatterley's Lover. I haven't read it, but your useful comments make me want to leave it alone.

May 30, 2012, 6:11pm Top

Jennifer interesting review of Lady Chatterley's lover.

Although Lady Chatterley was published in the 1960's, Lawrence actually wrote the book in the 1920's when attitudes were very different. While we all cheered the book in the 1960's for its battle with the obscenity laws, when we read it today it is quite clear that much of what Lawrence wrote would not be acceptable to the women's liberation movement (or to new men)

I forgive Lawrence for everything, because his writing is so wonderful.

May 30, 2012, 7:24pm Top

Barry, do you have a favorite among his other works? Also, do you (or does anyone) know off hand if any of Lawrence's other works were banned/censored? Or were they not as explicit?

May 31, 2012, 4:35am Top

His two best novels are "The Rainbow" and "Women In Love". There were no censorship problems with either of these and they are not as explicit as Lady Chatterly. My favourite novel of his is "The Plumed Serpent" one of the last novels he wrote. This novel beautifully combines his poetry with his travel writing.

Twighlight in Italy is a brilliant book of travel essays.

He did run into censorship problems with some of his paintings http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=D+H+Lawrence+paintings+images&hl=en&prm...

May 31, 2012, 2:01pm Top

japaul – enjoyed your review of The Master and Margarita. It is on my Hope To Read list for this year and your review makes me want to read it sooner rather than later. Comparing it to Wozzek and expressionism — even though, as you say, it isn't considered expressionist — is intriguing nonetheless.

I can see why you aren't "loving" Don Quixote. I actually listened to the old Books on Tape version some time ago and hearing it read by someone who was a professional actor really put some life into the book which I would not have gotten by just reading it on my own. Sometimes being read to is just the thing.

Fascinating stuff about Lady Chatterley's Lover. I'm going to have to reread that one of these days!

Jun 1, 2012, 4:37am Top

I once worked with a man named John Thomas, but I don't think he was much of a reader.

People either love or loathe D. H. Lawrence. I liked him a great deal when I was about eighteen, not so much now.

Jun 1, 2012, 10:47am Top

Thanks Barry, I'll make a note of those to get to some day!

Poquette - I've heard from others than an audiobook version of Don Quixote worked for them. I've never gotten into listening to books, but maybe I should give it a try.

pamelad - he-he! Guess his parents weren't readers either - at least of Lawrence!

Jun 3, 2012, 7:52am Top

Just catching up on your reading, Jennifer (and such a nice mix).

Jun 3, 2012, 7:34pm Top

Thanks for stopping by, avaland!

I went to my local used book store today and got a good haul. I don't go there too often because I really don't have the space for books and try to mainly use the library, but I couldn't resist going in today. I bought:

The Secret River by Kate Grenville
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Year Before Last by Kay Boyle (a classic green cover Virago edition that I couldn't pass up even though I've never heard of it!)

This shop is insane. There are stacks of books everywhere - so many that you can barely walk through the already narrow row house. Thanks to my years on librarything I was no where near as overwhelmed as I was when I first starting going there 8 years ago. I recognized so many of the authors and titles and it really helped me browse intelligently. Thanks to all of you who've broaden my reading knowledge!!

Jun 3, 2012, 8:23pm Top

>256 japaul22: - Ooh, what bookstore is it? I used to live in DC/NoVA and still get up there occasionally....

Jun 3, 2012, 8:27pm Top

It's Capitol Hill Books on C St. SE - basically right by Eastern Market on Capitol Hill. It looks like kind of a disaster because it's literally loaded with books, but there are a lot of great finds if you take a lot of patience. Also, Eastern Market is great on the weekends. There's a big flea market and farmer's market every weekend. Lots of great restaurants too. Let me know if you ever want specifics. I live just a few blocks away!

Jun 3, 2012, 8:31pm Top

Cool, thanks! I love Eastern Market but never went in to Capitol Hill Books - I'll check it out next time I'm up there.

Jun 4, 2012, 2:37am Top

Interesting review of Lady Chatterley's Lover. I might try to read it just because of the notoriety. I agree with baswood about The Rainbow and Women in Love though the only other Lawrence that I've read is Sons and Lovers which I found to be somewhat shallow. I liked his style and intensity in those two even though there were some preposterous plot elements.

That's a nice book haul. Loved Things Fall Apart and The Good Soldier and have heard very good things about A Fine Balance and The Secret River. Random Viragos are tempting!

Jun 4, 2012, 11:41am Top

OK, I think I'm going to attempt this "continue this topic" feature since my thread's getting kind of long. Hope to see you there!

This topic was continued by japaul's 2012 reading log, part 2.

Group: Club Read 2012

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